AGC supports occupational disease case before State Supreme Court


AGC has thrown its support behind a State Supreme Court case that could be a very significant public-policy case dealing with occupational-disease causation that could ultimately impact workers’-comp rates.


In somewhat simplified terms, Street v. Weyerhaeuser involves a typical claim scenario where the injured worker asserts an occupational disease on the basis of sore back and joints after a long career in heavy labor - in this instance, forest products and papermaking. To be accepted, an occupational disease must arise "naturally and proximately" from employment. At its best, this means that the condition must not only be work related, but also arise from distinctive conditions of work -- and not from non-occupational factors.

It is reasonably well accepted that expert medical evidence is required to show the condition arose from work. But the legal issue in Street is whether expert medical evidence is also required to show that the condition arose from distinctive conditions of work.

The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals said Yes, and rejected Street's claim. The Superior Court and Court of Appeals both disagreed. Weyerhaeuser sought review in the Supreme Court, and review was granted.

An amicus brief signed by AGC, BIAW, NFIB, Washington Farm Bureau, Washington Retail Association, Washington Food Industry Association and Washington Self-Insurers Association sketches just how out of whack Washington's occupational disease coverage and causation standards are in general (thanks, almost solely, to a generation of "liberal construction" by the courts), and make the policy and legal argument that Weyerhaeuser is correct that expert scientific evidence should be required to establish not only the work-relatedness in general of an occupational disease, but that the disease arose from distinctive conditions of employment and not outside factors.

The obvious consequence of enshrining the Court of Appeals view in precedent is even easier occupational disease coverage decisions within the State Fund and through self-insurers. Occupational-disease claims are an increasing total of all claims, are the most expensive claims, and are much more likely to result in findings of total disability (pension).

Oral arguments in the case are set for June 13.