Can I Sue My Employer For an L&I Injury?

In Washington State, the general rule is that an injured worker cannot sue their employer or a co-employee for an L&I job injury. Under Washington Industrial Insurance Act – RCW  Title 51 , injured workers receive workers’ compensation benefits in exchange for employer immunity against lawsuits. Essentially, the L&I system replaces a worker’s ability to sue their employer for negligence.  If you are hurt on the job – file an L&I claim. That is not suing your employer, rather it is filing a claim in a no fault system. Fault does not matter in an L&I claim. 

Fall And Fall Injury Accident At Workplace. Man Fell Down Stairs

Are there exceptions that may allow me to sue my employer?

While most injured employees cannot sue their employer due to employer immunity, this rule does not always apply. There are certain situations when this immunity can be challenged, allowing an injured worker to sue. There are at least three exceptions to the rule of employer immunity:

  1. Intentional Injury
  2. Temporary Agency Employee
  3. Non-L&I Claim

filling up a work injury claim form

How does the intentional injury exception work?

As per state law RCW 51.24.020, the exception to employer immunity is that an employee can sue their employer or co-worker if the injury was intentional. However, this is more challenging than it sounds. Case law for intentional injury tort requires

  1. The employer have actual, certain knowledge that the injury would occur
  2. They willfully disregard that knowledge.

An employee who wishes to sue for an intentional injury tort must be able to provide irrefutable evidence (i.e., video and witness testimony) to establish an intentional act.

A Negligent Act Is NOT the Same as an Intentional Act.

Intentional injury exception is difficult to prove because most persons who act are negligent still do not intend to injure. 
For example, suppose an employer deliberately removes the machine guard. In that case, they will probably avoid an intentional injury lawsuit when they argue they didn’t intend an injury. On the other hand, an employer or co-employee who throws a punch and tries to harm their target can probably be sued. In both examples, you will still have an L&I claim. In the case of the thrown punch, you will also have an intentional injury claim. 

What is the downside of an intentional injury tort?

The downside of an intentional injury tort is that once an employee proves intentional injury, the employer may lose their insurance coverage.  
Additionally, if a co-employee caused the intentional injury, L&I or the self insured employer can place an L&I lien on the proceeds of  intentional injury claims. This means the insurance company can request reimbursement for the workers’ comp benefits paid, from the proceeds of the intentional tort settlement. 

What is the upside of an intentional injury tort claim?

The upside of an intentional injury tort claim is that you can have both an L&I and an intentional injury claim. Additionally, there is no L&I lien on an intentional injury claim against an employer.

close up of doctor bandaging one hand after an accident

Are there exceptions for temporary agency employees?

Another special case that may permit an employee lawsuit is temporary employees working out of an agency or placement service. While the same rules apply, the players are in different positions, so the game looks different.

When a temporary employee is injured

  • The place of employment where the agency sent the worker is a third party, not the employer.
  • The temporary employment agency is the employer.

Therefore, the injured worker has two claims, so long as they didn’t injure themself at the temporary agency. The first is an L&I claim against the agency employer. The second would be a third-party claim if there was negligence at the work site of the third-party employer.

Employees filing temporary agency employee lawsuits or third-party claims will need to understand the unique differences in their cases. If you find yourself in this position, call us to discuss the best path moving forward.   

Sport physiotherapist and patient with leg injury during training with crutches

Are there exceptions for non-L&I claims such as wrongful termination and other employment law disputes?

Many situations allow employees to sue their employer if the focus of their claim isn’t about a job injury. Employment law situations such as employment discrimination, illegal termination, sexual harassment, failure to accommodate, and many others allow for legal action against an employer. 

It’s important to note that employment law is not workers’ compensation law. Suppose you call us regarding an employment law case. In that case, we will refer you to an employment attorney whose practice focuses on employment law. Your employment lawyer will be able to provide legal help for cases such as:   

Wrongful Termination

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires an employee for illegal reasons unrelated to the company’s state, your employment contract, or poor job performance. If your employer fired you illegally, you might have grounds to file a wrongful termination suit. 

Employer Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the American With Disability Act prohibits discrimination from employers against employees based on gender, nationality, religion, disability, and other protected classes. If you believe your employer violated these discrimination laws or you were wrongfully terminated due to discrimination, you may be able to sue your employer.  

Employer Harassment

There are various forms of workplace harassment, the most common being sexual harassment. Harassment may come directly from your employer or a co-employee. In both situations, you have grounds to sue your employer if they fail to do something about harassment from a co-employee. 

Man with arm injury using laptop

We Can Assist With Your Workers’ Compensation Claim

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your L&I claim, an experienced legal team can make a considerable difference in the outcome of your case. 

If you’ve suffered an on-the-job injury and believe the assistance of a supportive legal team will benefit your case, schedule a complimentary consultation with Sharpe Law Firm today.

How to get a Free Consultation and Case Evaluation.

There are 4 different ways you can get a free initial consultation. Take your choice:

  1. Complete the Free Case Evaluation Form below
  2. Call / text: (206) 343-1988
  3. Email us: [email protected]
  4. Schedule an appointment via Calendly

We usually reply to forms, texts, and emails within 1 business day.

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Chris Sharpe

Meet Chris Sharpe

Christopher Sharpe is the go to attorney for injured persons. His law firm is helpful, honest, and knowledgeable about workers' compensation and personal injury law in the State of Washington. Chris has been helping injured Washington State workers for over 40 years. He has built a successful law practice by thoroughly educating, honestly helping, and successfully representing workers throughout Washington State.

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