L&I and Suicide

If You Need Help with a Suicide Concern Get Help Now.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 24 hours every day 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention King County – Online helpful Information

If You Want Information About an L&I Related Suicide You Have Come to the Right Place.

Why do Injured Workers’ Sometimes Commit Suicide?

Serious job injuries devastate injured workers and their families.  With their job prospects so dismal, their future so dark, and with their lives falling apart, some injured workers take their own lives.  Sadly the workers’ life has ended, however there may be benefits for the survivors.

First Understand This about L&I and Suicide.

The circumstances surrounding the death, including how and why make a huge difference. L&I looks unfavorably on a premeditated suicide. Get legal advice sooner rather than later. It may be the smarted thing you have ever done.

How does Suicide Affect the L&I Claim?

With the death, rights to only some L&I benefits pass to the survivors. Claim status and the circumstances of the suicide are very important to the analysis of which benefits pass to survivors.  Fewer benefits pass if the suicide was planned and not delusional.

-Open L&I Claim

Suicide does not immediately end an open L&I claim. The claim doesn’t end until a number of issues are handled.

    • What was legal L&I status of the injured worker when he committed suicide?
      • PTD – Was injured worker already, prior to the suicide, Permanently Totally DisabledRCW 51.32.050(6)  if so spouse or children are entitled to get a pension.
      • TTD -Was the injured worker Temporarily Totally Disabled and owed time loss at the time of death? If so RCW 51.32.040 (2)(6) provides how that payment will be distributed.  Survivors may still be eligible for a pension.
      • PPD – Was the injured worker permanently partially disabled and thus owed a settlement by L&I? If so RCW 51.32.040(2)(a) provides if and how that payment will be distributed. Survivors may still be eligible for a pension.
    • Did the job injury cause the suicide?
      • The law uses the concept of proximate cause to answer this. Was the injury a cause of the suicide or did something intervene to break the causal chain between injury and death. It makes a difference.
    • Was this legally a suicide? It makes a difference. Taking your own life is not always a suicide. There is a recognized presumption against suicide, WPI 24.03
    • Is there a spouse or a dependent child and if so will the spouse or dependent get any benefits from L&I?

-No Open L&I Claim

Suicide does not preclude a never filed claim from being filed. If your spouse committed suicide because of a job injury or occupational disease, even if no claim was ever filed there may be hope. Contact Us for information about your rights. Do not wait, there are time deadlines called the Statute of Limitations.

Time Deadlines For Filing a Claim After a Suicide

  • Statute of Limitations (SOL) – This is a law which requires that claims be filed on time.
    • Open L&I claim at the time of death – Statute of Limitations is One Year.  RCW 51.32.050 requires that if the L&I claim is open at death, the widows or dependents claim must be filed within one year of the death.
    • No open claim filed at the time of death.
      • Injury: The widow or dependents claim must be filed within one year of death.
      • Occupational Disease: Widow can still file for benefits , sometimes many years later (Beels v DLI) . This gets very complicated.

There is hope here for widows. It’s complicated. Talk to us about how it can be done.  Contact Us

Will the Spouse Be Eligible to Get a Settlement or a Pension?

Spouse gets the pension after a suicide, if either:

  • The workman dies  while permanently and totally disabled by the injury.   RCW 51.32.010, 51.32.050(2)(6). In this situation the suicide is not relevant; the spousal pension should be granted.
  • Industrial injury is a proximate cause of death. RCW 51.32.050(2) This means:
    • The injured workers killed himself at least in part because of the job injury, and
    • The suicide must not be volitional, rather industrial injury caused injured worker to suffer a mental derangement leading to suicide.

The Law of Suicide in L&I Cases

The Statute prohibits pension payment to the spouse when suicide was intentional.

  • RCW 51.32.020, in pertinent part, provides that the widow of an injured workman is not entitled to a pension under the act “if…death results to a workman from the deliberate intention of the workman himself to produce such… death.”

There are exceptions to this rule. The Courts have interpreted the “deliberate intention” words in the statute to allow the widow to get a pension in some cases.  The court will decide if the spouse gets the pension. The court looks at the facts, listens to the witness’ and the lawyers, applies the law, and makes their best decision. The court is allowed to liberally construe L&I laws, and resolve doubts in favor of the injured worker. Here are the leading cases allowing pension, even with a suicide.

  • To render an injured worker’s suicidal act compensable, the survivor must show that: (Schwab v DL&I)
    • the industrial injury proximately caused a mental derangement leading to suicidal conduct; and
    • the suicidal act was not volitional
  • An injury occasioned suicidal death to be compensable must occur from an uncontrollable impulse or in a delirium of frenzy without conscious volition to produce death. This means that injury related drugs, pain, and suffering and/or other forms of acute dementia, may allow the spouse to recover.
  • Recovery requires competent medical opinion that the decedent acted under an uncontrollable impulse or while in a state of delirium when he took his life.  Mercer v DLI 74wn2d96(1968) 


What is the affect of alcohol on a suicide case?

  • When alcohol plays a role in the suicide, recovery is still possible if alcohol was not the sole proximate cause of death
  • Pre-existing alcohol
    • in re William Zygarliski, Dec’d, BIIA Dec., 89 1094 (1990) is a classic case where severe use of alcohol over the years did not preclude a beneficiary claim after worker suicide. Alcoholism existing and disabling prior to the date of injury will contribute to a finding of total and permanent disability (pension).
  • Pain relief alcohol – can it create the delirium which excepts suicide from being volitional? If so there may be benefits for a spouse.
  • Overdose of drugs – The BOIIA allowed a pension for the spouse where the cause of death was not intentional but rather a combination of alcohol, and prescription drugs used because of the industrial injury. DLI v. Shirley
  • Previous suicide attempts and the presence  of suicidal tendencies does not preclude a finding that claimant’s suicide is the result of an uncontrollable impulse. Schwab v DLI

Are You a Spouse Who is Hoping to Get a Pension after a Suicide?

It is possible and it can be done. Get a lawyer and do it soon. These  are difficult cases, but they are not impossible. These are good cases. A spousal pension case can be worth a lot of money.  You get paid only if you win.

Death on the Job, Not a Suicide.

See: Death on the job – L&I Fatality

Death Benefits RCW 51.32.050

The death of an injured worker, which is at least in part caused by the industrial injury, gives L&I the authority to provide two additional benefits.






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Chris Sharpe

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 his practice on thoroughly educating, honestly helping, and successfully representing workers throughout Washington State.

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