This week a metro bus driver is in the hospital after a vicious knife attack. Another tragic incident resulting in a nut case for the criminal justice system and an injured driver who has to deal with L&I.
How will L&I handle this claim? This claim should be straight forward with undisputed facts, lots of witness’, and clear physical injuries.
How do bus drivers fare with L&I claims in general? Not so good.
THE REALITY OF BUS DRIVING
Bus drivers have to do many things all at the same time. They must safely negotiate a large vehicle in crazy traffic while simultaneously keeping up with a schedule and time tables in ever worsening traffic. Then there is the customer service game: helping disabled patrons, keeping an eye on strange passengers, and dealing with security issues.
The physical aspects of driving are also challenging. Sitting for hours at a time, bouncing around on bad roads, using outdated equipment, working odd hours, driving too long without a decent break and no access a restroom are frequent complications of being a bus driver. This job is stress on wheels.
Then there is the joy of a support system comprised of unfriendly management, ineffective supervisors and shop stewards who have to get along with management.
Out of no where comes a job injury, and suddenly its overwhelming. It doesn’t matter if it is a job injury from a violent attack like this drivers, or a simple shoulder strain from manhandling trolley poles. There are many questions and unexpected hurdles that arise after a job injury we want to share just a few.
IF I GET HURT, SHOULD I FILE AN L&I CLAIM?
- Filing a claim for what seems like a minor injury makes a person feel uneasy, and is never welcomed by the company. However not filing could foreclose your getting help later if this injury turns out to have serious complications. To be safe you should always report your injury, file your L&I injury claim with your doctor quickly, and always within one year. When getting medical care, always mention the job aspects of your injury.
- Supervisors don’t like L&I claims and may be inclined to encourage claim suppression. They take the position that your injury is bad for their record. Don’t let them suppress your claim. Learn to recognize claim suppression, and what to do about it.
- Company doctors are a problem. They are the ones your supervisor wants you to see but they don’t have your best interests in mind. If you have a serious injury or occupational disease stay away from company doctors. They will ruin your claim.
- Finding a helpful doctor is a challenge. L&I is dysfunctional on this point. Their doctor finder is a joke. They harass good doctors to drive them out of the L&I provider network. L&I wants yes doctors and crooked IME physicians to control your medical care. Don’t let them do this to you. Find a good doctor. He or she is the most important person helping you with your L&I claim.
- How do you know when to return to work after an injury? A return to work before complete healing is problematic. Staying at home with an injury is no picnic either. Talk to your doctor and your supervisor. Make a good decision.
INJURY ON THE JOB
- A job injury is straight forward. Passenger assaults driver, driver has a job injury. A claim is filed and L&I covers the injury. There may even be a third party claim.
- An occupation disease with physical symptoms such as driving a bus for 20 years and developing a bad back, is easy enough to understand. With good facts and a helpful doctor that occupational disease claim can be won with L&I
STRESS ON THE JOB
Job Stress is real and serious. It is also a problem.
- L&I prohibits occupational stress claims. RCW51.08.142
- Examples of mental conditions caused by stress which will NOT be covered are listed in WAC 296-14-300(1) and include:
- Change of employment duties;
- Conflicts with a supervisor;
- Actual or perceived threat of loss of a job, demotion, or disciplinary action;
- Relationships with supervisors, coworkers, or the public;
- Specific or general job dissatisfaction;
- Work load pressures;
- Subjective perceptions of employment conditions or environment;
- Loss of job or demotion for whatever reason;
- Fear of exposure to chemicals, radiation biohazards, or other perceived hazards;
- Objective or subjective stresses of employment;
- Personnel decisions;
- Actual, perceived, or anticipated financial reversals or difficulties occurring to the businesses of self-employed individuals or corporate officers.
- In effect occupational stress L&I claims cannot be won. Mental conditions caused by difficult job situations are loser L&I claims.
Traumatic Stress – One Event
- Stress resulting from a single traumatic event will be adjudicated as an injury WAC 294-14-300 (2)(a-c) so a single traumatic event can give rise to a successful L&I claim.
- Also a single traumatic event, which occurs within a series of exposures will be adjudicated as an injury.
- These are not easy claims. They are disfavored by L&I and unfairly reported by IME’s. However if your facts are favorable and your doctor persistent, these claims can be won.
Traumatic Stress – Multiple Events
- Repeated exposures to traumatic events, which exposures create mental conditions, create a loser L&I claim. They are not an injury and not an occupational disease WAC 294-14-300 (d)
INJURY VS OCCUPATIONAL DISEASE
Stress claims make more sense if you understand the fundamental difference between an injury and an occupational disease.
- An occupational disease cannot give rise to a successful mental health L&I claim.
- An injury can give rise to a successful mental health L&I claim.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PROTECT OUR DRIVERS?
Kenny McCormick, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587advocates for shields on the bus and body cameras on the drivers. He is right. It’s time for King County Metro to step up and protect our drivers.
A well written article regarding the recent bus driver tragedy, written by Seattle Times reporter Sara Jean Green can be read here.
This article written by Workers Compensation Attorney Christopher Sharpe