Last week the Washington Supreme Court held in favor of employer immunity under Washington’s workers’ compensation program in a case closely watched by Washington’s construction and business communities. The case involves employer liability for asbestos exposure 28 years ago, but the Supreme Court’s decision will apply to a wide variety of harmful substance exposures in the workplace, and to potential claims against employers for allowing those exposures.
The Court’s decision ended a lawsuit against Boeing that went to the heart of the workers’ compensation system, which has for over 100 years been a “grand compromise” between Washington employers and their employees. In originally enacting the workers’ compensation program the Washington legislature declared that lawsuits were a terrible way to compensate employees for workplace injuries:
The common law system governing the remedy of workers against employers for injuries received in employment is inconsistent with modern industrial conditions. In practice it proves to be economically unwise and unfair. Its administration has produced the result that little of the cost of the employer has reached the worker and that little only at large expense to the public. The remedy of the worker has been uncertain, slow and inadequate.
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