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L&I Pensions Explained by Attorney Chris Sharpe

What is a Washington State L&I Pension?

An L&I Pension is the benefit paid to a worker who will never return to work. It is a Washington State L&I Claim Settlement with Lifetime Payments.

If you cannot work again, because of a serious job injury, learn the L&I pension rules. 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 Settle 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. Few workers have heard of a pension in the L&I context. If you have a chance to get a pension you owe it to yourself to ask questions and see if you qualify. It could be the smartest thing you have ever done.

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 like 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 L&I has ruined many a pension journey before you.  This could be your first trip down the pension road. You will want to look ahead and see where you are going. Learn the pension rules and be prepared for the problems you will encounter.

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 cannot work at in any substantial gainful occupation.”
  • Open Washington State L&I Injury or Occupational Disease Claim
  • You need 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 Totally 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 L&I benefit that pays the most. If you are going to return to work, get the best PPD settlement you can.

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 the lifetime 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.

The pension calculator is the mathematical formula which yields the amount of your monthly pension payment.

  • Daily time loss amount x 30= monthly pension amount.
    Your daily rate is printed on each of your time loss payment orders.
  • L&I pension payments are made on the 15th of every month. If you do this right L&I pension payments are for the rest of your life.

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

Attorney Chris Sharpe explains that 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 instead of payment for impairment it looks at 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 . See if you qualify for a pension.

Pension Cost of Living Adjustment – COLA

Pension payment amounts are scheduled to increase 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. This often amounts to a nice yearly increase.

Can I (DIY) “Do It Yourself”?

Yes it can be done. The pension rules are the same for you with or 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 and ready at each step. You can’t DIY on a trial and error basis. One critical mistake will ruin your chance for a pension. Get it right and you will be happy.

Do I Want a Lawyer to Get My Pension?

Good lawyers cost money. A good lawyer might be the difference between winning and losing 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 a good way to decide if you should hire an L&I attorney.  A lawyer is best used as a guide who gets you there, and who helps from start to finish. Could your L&I claim benefit from 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. Medical care on the right track? Have good facts? Has your doctor told L&I you will never work again because of your job injuries? Is 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  website. I have counseled thousands of injured workers about their L&I claims. I have helped many of them get their pension. We charge 15% of ongoing pension payments if we get one for you. Our firm is glad to offer you a free strategy session. We’ll talk and you can decide what to do.

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

Spousal Pension

  • If you are married on the day a pension is granted, at that time 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, then the pension should pass to them.
  • If you are not married on the day your pension is granted. you cannot later marry and pass on your pension.
  • If you are not married just before a pension is granted, but are living with a partner or otherwise paired up, you might want to get married soon. This is good estate planning.
  • There are two spousal pension options, (option 2 & option 3), both of which usually involve a reduced rate. This option 2 or 3 spousal pension continues to pay as long as one or both of you are alive.

Children’s Pension

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 after the workers death. Payments are to a spouse or child. This is planning for your family’s future, get it right.  At pension award time, the worker is given the three pension options.

  • Option 1, the workers pension ends with his or her death (unless the death is the result of either the job injury or occupational disease).
  • Option 2 for a reduced rate, the pension will pass on to the surviving spouse.
  • Option 3, for a reduced rate, the pension will pass on to the surviving spouse.
  • The reduced rate of these pension options apply only if  and when the workers death is unrelated to the accepted injury caused medical conditions. If the death is causally related to the job, see Widows Pension below for a better pension rate.
  • Option 2 & 3 spousal pensions last for a lifetime, even with remarriage.

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?

Trial Work Period.

You can try work to see if you can handle it if you want. You must coordinate this with your doctor and your claims manager. If you do 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.

Be Honest with L&I

You are not allowed to work full time and collect pension benefits. That is dishonest.  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 will follow up. They also require you to certify each year your earnings and work activity.  Be honest with L&I. You cannot collect pension benefits and work. If you do work and don’t tell L&I and they figure out you are 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 L&I or to an L&I lawyer if you need guidance in this area. If you do part time work while on a pension, the rule is that you are required to  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.  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. If you get an order stating you have voluntarily retired. Appeal it. See Voluntary Retirement.

What is a Widows Pension?

Widows Pension Qualifications

A widows pension is a survivors pension for the widow or widower of the worker who dies because of the job injury.  The widows pension qualifications are:

  • Worker dies as a result of a job injury or occupational disease
  • Widow and worker were married on the date of death
  • If the deceased worker had an L&I claim at death then the spouse must apply  for a pension within one year of a death.
  • If the deceased worker had not filed an L&I claim for the occupational disease then the spouse has two years to file for a widows pension or longer. Don’t quit on this. You can do this. Contact us if you might want us to help.

The Money

The money 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 with no option 2 or 3 reduction.  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 before the rate is set; the rate once set is the rate which will last a lifetime. It makes a difference.

How Long does a Widow Pension Last?

A survivors pension for a death which is related to the job injury will last for a lifetime unless the survivor remarries.

What is a Pension for Dependent Family Members?

A pension for dependent family members is a  survivors pension.

How to Qualify if the Worker Dies Because of the Job Injury or Occupational Disease.

  • The  worker must die because of an L&I injury or occupational disease.
  • The family members are financially dependent on the workers wages

Who is a Family Member

A dependent family member can be, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nephews, and nieces.

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 may be able to return to work,  even full time, and still receive the statutory pension benefit.

What is a Pension Reserve?

This is the amount of money L&I sets aside as an estimate of what your pension will cost them. It’s just a guess and is not important to you or your pension.

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.

Can I Cash Out my Pension?

Yes, but don’t do it. You only get pennies on the dollar. It is never worth it NEVER.

A Final Word About L&I Pensions

If you will never work again because of your job injury this pension is for you.

Talk to us about a pension. It may be the smartest thing you ever do. Attorney Chris Sharpe and his staff are ready to advise and to help. Contact Us for a free strategy session.

 Watch a video presentation about Pensions by Sharpe Law Firm


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