Shook, Hardy & Bacon Partner Mark Behrens and Associate Tiffany Lim have authored an article analyzing a significant Washington Supreme Court decision that preserves the integrity of workers' compensation laws in occupational disease cases. Published in the November 2014 edition of the King County Bar Association's Bar Bulletin, the article notes that the Industrial Insurance Act (IIA) establishes a no-fault compensation system for workplace injuries that only allows an employee to file a lawsuit when deliberately injured by an employer. Consistent with previous rulings that set a high standard for IIA exceptions, the majority in Walston v. Boeing Co. held that a former employee seeking to file a tort lawsuit had failed to prove that Boeing "deliberately intended" to injure him. According to Behrens and Lim, "Knowledge of a risk is not the same thing as a deliberate intent to injure."
"Had the Court reached a different decision, the likely impact on Washington businesses whose operations involve work with or around dangerous substances (and thus pose an inherent risk of occupational injuries) would have been significant, if not catastrophic," concludes the article. "A ruling that any employer who engages in hazardous-materials operations has automatically acted with the specific intent to injure its employees simply because such work may cause someone to develop an illness would have subjected Washington employers to a flood of expensive tort litigation."