WA Legal Roundup: Division II
Mr. Walker appeals the trial court’s decision in favor of his previous employer, Glacier Nw. Inc., wherein the trial court held that RCW 51.32.090(4), governing an employer’s ability to terminate time-loss benefits, applied to his case.
Walker was an employee of Glacier Nw. Inc. and was injured on the job when his cement truck tipped over after he turned sharply. As a result, Glacier fired Walker for causing the truck to overturn and failing to follow the safety guidelines in operating the cement truck. Walker was injured in the collision. L&I directed Glacier (a self insured company) to pay Walker’s lost wages and medical benefits. Upon Walker’s release to light duty from his treating physician, Glacier denied Walker the light duty position available and requested termination of time-loss payments to Walker. L&I ordered Glacier to continue payments because the light duty position, while available, was not made available to Walker. Glacier exhausted its remedies through L&I and sought the superior court’s review.
The superior court agreed with Glacier, ruling that Glacier met its duties under RCW 51.32.090(4) because they had available light duty work that would have been offered to Walker but for his termination from the company. Walker disagrees and argues that the court erred because his termination was not “wholly unrelated” to his injury and that RCW 51.32.090(4) does not apply The Appeals Court agreed with Walker, after considering the latter argument only, reversed, and remanded.
The Court reasoned, after interpreting the statute, that RCW 51.32.090(4) allows an employer to terminate time loss payments whenever the employer offers the injured employee other work and the physician certifies that the injured employee is able to perform the same but only after the employee begins the other work. Here, the Court held that Glaciers argument conflicts with the plain language of the statute because Glacier never intended for Walker to begin working for it. The Court, although sympathetic to Glacier’s position, ruled that the result was not absurd wherein Glacier failed to take advantage of other opportunities the statute offers such as invoking L&I’s vocational rehabilitation services and forcing Walker to look for modified work elsewhere.