Righting a Wrong for a Quadriplegic Following On the Job Injury in Washington State

On a daily basis our law firm provides free information to the public on injuries that occur on and off the job.   But recently we were proud to file a court action asking that the Department of Labor and Industries (Department) be required to pay for the personal care needs of a worker paralyzed from the neck down due to an on the job injury.

The appeal by our office was what is known as: Pro-bono: “For the Public Good”; that is, a professional, in this case, our law firm, takes on work voluntarily and without payment to do “Public Good”.  We had the opportunity to clearly right a wrong, to educate the Department, and, hopefully, make the path easier for other paralyzed workers.

The worker’s doctor had said his patient needed 24 hour care.  The Department said that only 12 hours of care was required.  This 12 or 24 hour debate was the heart the dispute in this case. In our taking of the sworn testimony of the Department’s expert on medical aid services needed by this worker, the expert admitted that while it was her opinion that only 12 hours of services were needed, those services had to be 12 hours of services delivered over a 24 hour clock.  For example, the worker had to be turned every 2 hours during the entire 24 hour day.  The expert for the Department agreed she did not know of any health care agency that would be able to somehow divide up these 12 hours of services she recommended over the 24 hour schedule.  For example, no company would have someone come by at 2 a.m. to turn the worker, then return at 4 a.m. to repeat the care if they were hired to provide only 12 hours of services; just the travel time to and from the worker’s house would eat up much of that time allowed.

In the case of this appeal on whether the worker required basic medical needs, it was argued that if such services were needed, the worker would simply have to leave the home to enter a care facility. So rather than provide the medical services in the home of the worker, the Department was saying if you need round the clock care, pack your bag, you will have to give up living in your home.  Not only is this argument dehumanizing, but there is a good body of evidence that once a person enters a care facility, their life expectancy is reduced for multiple reasons; it is simply healthier to remain in your home. See the following website and others: Life Expectancy Compression: The impact of moving into a long term care facility on length of life | Life Care Funding

The good news, after hiring an expert on behalf of the injured worker and taking testimony, the Department agreed to (1) no less than 17 hours of attendant care services per day (2) without a future reduction in those hours absent proof of a significant improvement in the worker’s condition.  This second point was significant as there is a periodic review performed by the Department, and the next reviewer, without evidence of significant improvement in the worker’s condition, could have reduced the hours allowed just by recalculating such; thereby requiring more litigation.