Appeal from SUPERIOR COURT YAKIMA COUNTY. Superior Court No: 93-2-00248-2. Date filed in Superior Court: 2/18/94. Superior Court Judge signing: STEPHEN BROWN.
Author: Dennis J. Sweeney, Concurring: Philip J. Thompson & John A. Schultheis.
SWEENEY, C.J.--Washington law provides for two methods of computing monthly wages for purposes of Department of Labor and Industries workers' compensation claims--one for workers employed year-round (RCW 51.08.178(1)) and one for exclusively seasonal workers (RCW 51.08.178(2)). The trial court here concluded that Eduardo T. Sanchez's employment was exclusively seasonal in nature. The primary question presented is whether a general farm worker whose pattern was to work from March to November, but whose job can be performed throughout the year, was employed exclusively seasonal. We conclude that he was and affirm the trial court.
In May 1988, the Double D. Hop Ranch (Double D) hired Mr. Sanchez as a general farm laborer. In 1988, he worked from May through October. In 1989, Mr. Sanchez worked from February until early November. In 1990, he worked from February until November 9, when he was injured on the job. As a general farm laborer, Mr. Sanchez worked at a number of different tasks, including planting and cultivating hops, digging ditches, driving a tractor and other odd jobs.
On November 26, 1991, the Department of Labor and Industries (the Department) awarded Mr. Sanchez monthly time loss compensation. It based that compensation on the conclusion that Mr. Sanchez was a seasonal worker (RCW 51.08.178(2)). The statute requires that the Department calculate the monthly time loss rate on an average of wages for "any twelve successive calendar months preceding the injury which fairly represent the claimant's employment pattern." RCW 51.08.178(2). The Department averaged Mr. Sanchez's wages from the fourth quarter of 1989 through the third quarter of 1990.
Mr. Sanchez appealed the Department's order to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (the Board). He argued that his employment was not exclusively seasonal and his benefits should therefore have been based on "the monthly wages [he] was receiving from all employment at the time of injury. . . ." RCW 51.08.178(1). Following a hearing, the Board's Industrial Appeals Judge (IAJ) issued a proposed decision and order that Mr. Sanchez was not a seasonal or part-time worker. Both Double D and the Department appealed the proposed decision and order. The Board denied the petitions for review and adopted the IAJ's decision.
Double D appealed to the Yakima County Superior Court. The superior court concluded Mr. Sanchez was a seasonal worker based on his work history. He appeals.
Employment Exclusively Seasonal in Nature. The question presented requires a two-step analysis. We must first decide what the Legislature meant by "the worker's employment is exclusively seasonal in nature." Ravsten v. Department of Labor & Indus., 108 Wash. 2d 143, 150, 736 P.2d 265 (1987) ("The function of judicial interpretation of statutory enactments is to effectuate the object and intent of the Legislature."). We must then decide whether the evidence is sufficient to support the trial court's finding that Mr. Sanchez's employment "would not have existed during the cold-weather months of the winter of 1990-1991." See Ravsten, 108 Wash. 2d at 146 (sufficient evidence must support trial court's finding).
Mr. Sanchez argues that we should accord "substantial weight" to the Department's interpretation of these statutes. Flanigan v. Department of Labor & Indus., 65 Wash. App. 119, 121, 827 P.2d 1082 (1992), aff'd in part, rev'd & remanded in part, 123 Wash. 2d 418, 869 P.2d 14 (1994). And certainly the expertise of administrative bodies is a valuable aid in interpreting legislation and filling in legislative gaps. Balser Invs., Inc. v. Snohomish County, 59 Wash. App. 29, 37, 795 P.2d 753 (1990). He also correctly urges that we should liberally construe the industrial insurance act to afford those benefits or remedies provided under the act. Sacred Heart Medical Ctr. v. Carrado, 92 Wash. 2d 631, 635, 600 P.2d 1015 (1979); Wilber v. Department of Labor & Indus., 61 Wash. 2d 439, 446, 378 P.2d 684 (1963).
We turn then to the Department's interpretation of the three pivotal words of RCW 51.08.178(2)--employment, exclusively and seasonal:
the term "employment" means the work history or career pattern of the worker. "Exclusively" means that the employment is entirely dependent upon the seasons. "Seasonal" infers that the nature of the work is such that it can only be performed at certain times of the year.
Industrial Insurance Division, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, Claims Administration Policy Memo, Policy 4.41 (June 2, ...