Injuries are not badges of honor, protecting your family is.

L&I Pensions Explained by Attorney Chris Sharpe

What is a Washington State L&I Pension?

An L&I Pension is L&I Claim Settlement with Lifetime Payments.

If you cannot work again, because of a serious job injury, learn about an L&I pension. A pension is a money payment every month for life.  The dollar amount is roughly equal to your time loss payment, for the rest of your life. A pension is the best settlement benefit L&I has to offer.

Any L&I Workers Compensation Claim Can End with an L&I Pension.

An L&I pension is not a retirement pension. This pension does not come from your company.  It doesn’t matter if your employer does or does not have a pension plan.

This pension comes from L&I. This is a pension you get because you have an L&I claim and a career ending job injury. Pensions are a little-known and little-talked about benefit. Many injured workers have never heard of in the L&I context. If you have a chance to get one, you owe it to yourself to try. The lifetime benefit of a pension makes it worth the effort.

How to Qualify for a Washington State L&I Pension.

To get an L&I pension you need good planning, good facts, good advice, and a little good luck.  The pension rules are straight forward and easy to understand. Just the same pensions are not easy to get. Less than two percent of all L&I claims end up in pension.

The road to a pension is a long and winding journey. Along the way you will meet claims managers, vocational counselors, employers, and IME doctors who don’t want you to get a pension.  They will try to derail your pension journey. Keep in mind that these important L&I people have ambushed many an injured worker before you, whereas this could be your first trip down the pension road. Learn the pension rules so you are prepared for the road blocks they have planned for you.

L&I Pension Rules:

This is what you need to qualify for a pension:

  • Favorable Medical Opinion. A helpful doctor is a must. Your doctor will eventually need to say in writing that: “more likely than not you can not work at any substantial gainful occupation.”
  • Open Washington State L&I Injury Claim
  • Good Facts are essential. You will have to prove that considering your age, education and work experienceyou cannot work at any job.
    • Age – the older the better
    • Education – for once in your life less education is better
    • Work Experience -The less you have previously done the better
    • You Cannot Work – at any substantial (full time), gainful (for at least minimum wage), occupation.

L&I Pension Examples:

  • Pension Winner: A 60 year old, with a 10th grade education, who has only worked as a logger. He has both a serious back injury and depression. His doctor says he cannot work at any job.
  • Pension Loser:  A 35 year old with a college education who has held many jobs and has been employed as a cashier. His doctor is a wimp and afraid of L&I. His doctor agrees with the IME.

Do All Permanently Disabled L&I Workers Want a Pension?

A pension is the best benefit L&I has to offer. You want it if you can get it. The only person who does not want a pension is someone who will return to work, or a single person who will die soon.

What is Better – L&I Pension or L&I PPD?

That depends on your situation. A pension pays more and is for someone who cannot and will not work again. PPD is a settlement for someone who can or will return to the workforce. If you qualify a pension is the best L&I benefit.

What’s a Pension Worth and How Much Does it Pay?

A pension is roughly the same as time loss for the rest of your life. To get a working estimate of pension value, multiply your time loss check by 26, then multiply that by how many more years you have to live. To be more precise, add in an annual cost of living adjustment. That calculation equals a rough approximation of the value of a pension for you. If you will be penalized with a Social Security Offset, be sure to factor that into your analysis. Get help figuring this out if you need it.

The L&I Pension Calculator.

I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as a pension calculator. I only mention L&I pension calculator because many people are looking for it. To calculate your pension benefit, see What is a pension worth, immediately above.

Why is a Washington State L&I Pension Worth so Much?

Attorney Chris Sharpe explains it this way:  Most L&I settlements are for permanent partial disability (PPD) which generally includes money only for physical and mental impairment.  A pension settlement is worth much more because it takes into consideration loss of income for the rest of your life.

If you are not going to work again because of your job injury, talk to attorney Sharpe about your pension.

Pension Cost of Living Adjustment – COLA

Pension payment amounts are scheduled to change each year, effective July 1. The Cost of Living Allowance is determined by  the change in the states average wage from the previous calendar year.

Can I (DIY) “Do It Yourself”?

Yes you can. The pension rules are the same for you with our without a lawyer. You need to fit your facts inside the pension rules. Easier said than done; but it can be done. The important part is that you are prepared. You can’t DIY on a trial and error basis. One critical mistake will end your pension journey.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Get a Pension?

Good lawyers cost money. A good lawyer might be the difference between getting and not getting a pension. The good news is that a L&I lawyer who believes in your case will charge contingent legal fees.  This means your lawyer will not charge an  attorney fee unless he wins money for you.

Here is one way to decide if you should hire an L&I attorney.  A lawyer is best used as a guide who helps from start to finish. Does your claim need a guide?  You don’t need a guide for a walk in the park . You need a guide to cross the Okepanoke Swamp. Which does your claim look like, a park or a swamp?

  • Claim going smoothly. Got your medical care? Have good facts? Think you will never work again?  Your doctor is strong and not afraid of L&I. If so you might want to try and DIY.
  • Claim problems? Tough medical situation? Unhelpful vocational counselor? Bad IME report? Is your doctor unwilling to stand up to L&I?  If so don’t pretend everything is OK. It is not. Talk to an L&I lawyer and see if they have advice for you and if he is willing to help with your case.

L&I Pension Attorney Chris Sharpe.

That’s me. I wrote this page and this entire website. I have counseled thousands of injured workers. I have helped many of them get their pension. I am glad to talk to you and help if I can. Contact me at Sharpe Law Firm.

Can I Pass my Pension on to My Wife or Children When I Die?

If you are married on the day a pension is granted, then you will be given the option to pass your pension on to that spouse if you are still married to that same person on the date of your death. There are two spousal pension options, (option 2 & option 3), both of which usually involve a reduced rate. This spousal pension continues to pay as long as one or both of you are alive.

If you are single with children on the date your pension is granted, you have the option to pass your pension on to your children. Most children can only receive this pension until they are 18, or 23 if in school full time. Totally disabled children can continue to receive a pension so long as they remain in a disabled status.

What is an Option 2 and Option 3 Pension?

These pension are simply the pre planned continuance of a regular L&I pension accomplished by the foresight of the worker.  At pension award time the worker is given the three pension options. Option 1, the pension ends with his or her death (unless the death is the result of the job injury or occupational disease). Option 2 and 3, for a reduced rate, will pass the pension on to the surviving spouse.

Can I get Both PPD Settlement Money and an L&I Pension For the Same Claim?

The general rule is no, you cannot get both PPD and a pension for the same claim. However, if you are awarded a PPD settlement you can appeal that decision. If you later win a pension, you can pay the settlement back and keep the much more valuable pension. There are some exceptions to the general rule per RCW.51.32.060(4).

Job Training, L&I Pensions, and Permanent Total Disability (PTD).

L&I pensions are for injured workers who can never work again.  L&I pensioners are permanently totally disabled. Successfully completing vocational training is evidence you can work, so maybe no pension. Sincerely attempting job training and failing still allows for and actually encourages the award of a pension.

What if I Return to Work While Receiving a Washington State L&I Pension?

If you return to work in the same or greater capacity as you were when injured, your pension status will change. As a first step L&I will suspend pension benefits while you try to work. If you are successful at your job attempt then you will likely forfeit your pension. At that time you may wish to apply for a PPD settlement.

Keep in mind that while you are on a pension, L&I is looking at you. They look at your reported social security earnings history, your social media presence, and other community information. If they see something that looks like work activity then they follow up. They also require you to certify each year your earnings and work activity.  Be honest with L&I. If you are receiving a pension and they find out you are working and you have not told them about you’re working, then they will charge you with fraud.

Can I Do Part Time Work While on an L&I Pension?

The easy answer is “no,” and most L&I attorneys will tell you exactly that. However the law in this area is untested. You can do a little part time work and still keep your pension. How much and what work you can do, and how much you can earn is fact dependent on your case. Talk to an L&I lawyer if you need guidance in this area. If you do part time work while on a pension, report it to L&I.

A pension is all or nothing; that is to say there is no reduced pension similar to social security where you can work a little and take a reduced payment, nor is there a trial work period. Be honest with L&I about the work you do while on a pension. You can bet they are looking at you.

What is Voluntary Retirement?

Voluntary retirement is an artificial claim status made up by L&I, to keep from paying pension benefits. Don’t let them do this to you. See Voluntary Retirement.

What is a Widows Pension?

A widows pension is a survivors pension with qualification different then a regular L&I pension.  The widows pension qualification is simple:

  • Spouse dies as a result of a job injury
  • Widow and worker were married on the date of injury

The benefit for the surviving spouse is calculated similar to the time loss calculation. If the death occurs with an open and paying claim, that is the pension rate used. If the death occurs at the time of injury, then the pension rate is not yet set. There are many factors that go into the rate. Get legal advice immediately; the rate once set is the rate which will last a lifetime. It makes a difference.

What is a Pension for Dependent Children?

A pension for dependent children is a form of survivors pension. It is a different kind of pension. A pension for dependent children can be awarded to: the natural  or adopted children of a worker who dies because of an L&I injury or occupational disease. The children are eligible to receive the pension until age 18 or age 23 if full time in school. A disabled child can receive this pension as long as they remain disabled, even for life.

What is a Statutory Pension?

A statutory pension is a different kind of pension. Many of the above rules don’t apply. To qualify for a statutory pension you need to lose two limbs or both eyes. God forbid this happened to you. If you do qualify for a statutory pension, you can work, even full time, and still receive the statutory pension benefit.

Can I get L&I Medical Care While on a Washington State L&I Pension?

Most pensioners lose their L&I medical care when the pension is granted. A few lucky but seriously injured pensioners are able to get a treatment order for accepted job related conditions where the supervisor deems treatment necessary to protect such workers’ life or provide for the administration of medical and therapeutic measures. RCW 51.36.010.  A good L&I lawyer can help with this.

Pensioners who do not have a treatment order when the pension is granted may apply for one later. There is no statute of limitations for this application.

A Final Word About L&I Pensions

If you will never work again because of your job injury, talk to us about a pension. It may be the smartest thing you ever do.

If you need legal counsel, Seattle L&I attorney Chris Sharpe and his staff are ready to advise and to help. Contact Us.

 Watch a video presentation about Pensions by Sharpe Law Firm

What’s Next?