Appeal from Superior Court, Spokane County; 91-2-03153-8. Honorable Robert H. Whaley, Judge.
Authored by Richard P. Guy. Concurring: James M. Dolliver, Charles Z. Smith, Barbara A. Madsen, Charles W. Johnson, Gerry L. Alexander, Richard B. Sanders. Dissenting: Philip A. Talmadge, Barbara Durham.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Guy
GUY, J. -- The issue in this case is whether a worker who has been awarded a permanent total disability pension under one worker's compensation claim may later receive a permanent partial disability award for a prior injury under a separate, pre-existing claim. We hold that the timing of the closure of claims should not work to the disadvantage of an injured worker. The worker in this case, therefore, is entitled to the additional compensation for his permanent partial disability. The Court of
Henry Clauson, the worker involved in this appeal, injured his right hip in an industrial accident in August 1974, and filed an application for benefits with the Department of Labor and Industries in September 1974.
When that claim was closed six years later, in September 1980, Mr. Clauson was awarded a permanent partial disability award equal to 35 percent of the amputation value of the right leg.
Approximately two and one-half years later, in January 1983, Mr. Clauson suffered a second industrial injury. This injury was to his low back and left hip (hereafter referred to as back injury). He filed a claim for benefits with the Department of Labor and Industries and received continuous time loss payments under that claim from January 1983 to August 1989, when he was determined to be permanently and totally disabled. He was placed on the disability pension rolls on August 16, 1989.
Meanwhile, in April 1987, while his second claim (for the back injury) was pending, Mr. Clauson's claim for the right hip injury was reopened for medical treatment purposes. Mr. Clauson had hip replacement surgery in September 1988. The parties agree that his right hip condition became medically fixed and stable sometime between February 1989, when his doctor would have testified that his condition was not stable, and August 23, 1989, when his physician last saw him and when his condition was medically fixed and stable.
In October 1989, at the request of the Department of Labor and Industries, a panel of examiners saw Mr. Clauson and concluded that he suffered a permanent partial disability of his right leg, due to the hip injury, of 60 percent.
Because Mr. Clauson had been classified as permanently and totally disabled as of August 16, 1989, and was receiving a pension, the Department closed Mr. Clauson's right hip claim in October 1989 without making an additional award.
Mr. Clauson appealed, first to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, then to the superior court, and then to the Court of Appeals. The Board and superior court concluded that the Industrial Insurance Act did not permit payment of benefits for a prior injury once the worker began receiving a permanent total disability pension. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Mr. Clauson was entitled to payment of both the pension (under the back claim) and the permanent partial disability award (under the hip claim). Clauson v. Department of Labor & Indus., 79 Wash. App. 537, 543, 903 P.2d 518 (1995), review granted, 128 Wash. 2d 1022 (1996). We granted the Department's petition for review.
Does the Industrial Insurance Act, RCW Title 51, permit a worker who has been classified as permanently and totally disabled, and who is receiving a pension, to additionally receive a permanent partial disability award, under an existing, open claim, for a prior injury?
The issue raised by this appeal requires us to construe provisions of the Industrial Insurance Act (the Act), RCW 51.32, providing for the payment of benefits to injured workers. The construction of a statute is a question of law and is reviewed de novo. Stuckey v. Department of Labor & Indus., 129 Wash. 2d 289, 295, 916 P.2d 399 (1996); Waste Management of Seattle, Inc. v. Utilities & Transp. Comm'n, 123 Wash. 2d 621, 627, 869 P.2d 1034 (1994); Our Lady of Lourdes Hosp. v. Franklin County, 120 Wash. 2d 439, 443, 842 P.2d 956 (1993).
The Act is to be "liberally construed for the purpose of reducing to a minimum the suffering and economic loss arising from injuries and/or death occurring in the course of employment." RCW 51.12.010. All doubts as to the meaning of the Act are to be resolved in favor of the injured worker. Kilpatrick v. Department of Labor & Indus., 125 Wash. 2d 222, 230, 883 P.2d 1370 (1994), 915 P.2d 519 (1995); Dennis v. Department of Labor & Indus., 109 Wash. 2d 467, 470, 745 P.2d 1295 (1987); Intalco Aluminum Corp. v. Department of Labor & Indus., 66 Wash. App. 644, 654, 833 P.2d 390 (1992), review denied, 120 Wash. 2d 1031, 847 P.2d 481 (1993).
The right to workers' compensation benefits is statutory, and a court will look to the provisions of the Act to determine whether a particular worker is entitled to compensation. Harrington v. Department of Labor & Indus., 9 Wash. 2d 1, 5, 113 P.2d 518 (1941).
RCW 51.32.060 provides that a worker who is permanently and totally disabled shall receive monthly payments during the period of disability.
The amount of payment is determined by the statute and is based primarily on the worker's wages and ...