When a worker can sue for an on-the-job injury
The call comes from an attorney friend in another state. He is looking for a workers’ comp lawyer in Washington. A man has fallen on the job and is now quadriplegic . I ask what happened. I talk to my partners. We decide there could be a case because “Stute” might apply. What is Stute? And why did we take the case – not as a worker’s comp case – but as a personal injury lawsuit.
Washington made a deal with injured workers when it enacted Title 51 of our State Code. If you are injured on the job as a result of the fault of your employer, you give up your right to sue. In exchange the Department of Labor & Industries will provide workers’ compensation benefits (with insurance premiums paid by employers). But there are exceptions
Sometimes a person injured on the job can bring a lawsuit for injuries. For example, a worker can sue someone if they weren’t employed by the same company.
There is also a major exception to the rule. It is called Stute.
In Stute, a general contractor (PBMC), hired a subcontractor (S&S Gutters) to install gutters and downspouts on a condominium construction project. Mr. Stute, an employee of S&S Gutters, slipped off a roof and was injured. PBMC knew that employees of S&S Gutters were working on the roof without any safety devices. The Washington Supreme Court ruled that “a general contractor has a duty to comply with all pertinent safety regulations with respect to every employee on the job site.”
This means, if you are working for a subcontractor on a project. And if you are injured because a safety violation has occurred. Then, you may be able to sue under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973. That act requires all employers to furnish to each of its employees a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause serious injury or death to their employees . “
In the case of our client, we filed a “Stute” lawsuit. The General Contractor confessed to not having any safety meetings, policy or procedures, or equipment for workers of the subcontractor. Ultimately their insurance company was required to pay for the worker’s injuries.
(This trial exhibit was of an on-the-job roof collapse that resulted in multiple orthopedic injuries including a spine injury).