Washington Legal Roundup – Division I
James Elliot was a construction worker. One day, a fellow worker fell through a hole in a ceiling directly above him. The fellow worker landed on his head on concrete about ten feet from Mr. Elliot and died.
Mr. Elliot initially thought he was OK, but then started feeling guilty for having not complained about safety violations on the construction site. He was also unwilling/unable to work at heights. He was fired, became depressed, started drinking and using drugs. He then went through rehab and was diagnosed with PTSD.
14 months after the death, he filed a claim for worker’s compensation benefits. The Department denied the claim because there is a one year statute of limitations for filing claims for injuries. The Board affirmed as did the Superior Court. So did the Court of Appeals. Harsh.
The legal issue was weather a “discovery rule” applied in the context of worker’s comp claims. Mr. Elliot was not aware that he was “injured” until well after he witnessed a co-worker fall on his head next to him. His life spiraled out of control after he was fired.
The Court of Appeals simply said that under the worker’s comp statute, the triggering event is the incident giving rise to the injury, not the discovery of the injury itself. The Court also said that that Mr. Elliot’s claim did not arise out of an “occupational disease” to which a longer statute of limitations arose. Harsh.
Note to Legislature: Fix this statute. The worker’s comp statute was designed to be a safety net for workers who are injured on the job without regard to fault. There was no safety net for Mr. Elliot