Walston v. Boeing Co.: Workers’ Compensation as an Exclusive Remedy

Walston v. Boeing Co., a case from the Supreme Court of the State of Washington, involved petitioner who was acting as the personal representative for the estate of decedent. Court records indicate that decedent was employed by respondent from the mid-1950s through the mid-1990s. In 1985, decedent was exposed to asbestos. That year, maintenance workers were repairing pipe insulation in the ceiling above the hammer shop in which decedent worked.

airplane-1445545-m.jpgThe maintenance workers wrapped the pipes to contain flaking of the asbestos insulation. These workers were also using ventilators and wearing hazmat suits to protect them from exposure to asbestos dust. Asbestos fibers can become embedded in the tissue of the lungs and other organs and cause a deadly type of cancer known as mesothelioma, as well as lung cancer.

During the entire time the work was being performed overhead, the workers in the hammer shop down below were not wearing any protective clothing or ventilators. Decedent placed a plastic sheet over his toolbox to protect it from the flakes that were falling onto it. At one point, decedent and his coworkers complained to a supervisor, but they were told to get back to work but try to avoid working directly under the overhead activity.

Decedent was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010. His doctor formed the opinion that his exposure was likely the result of the 1985 asbestos exposure. A second expert witness testified that once a patient is exposed to asbestos of a certain level, he or she suffers an immediate microscopic illness that cannot be detected. A third doctor admitted that asbestos is not certain to cause mesothelioma.

Petitioner sued his employer, who did not deny being aware of petitioner’s exposure to asbestos. Respondent claimed instead that it did not have actual knowledge that petitioner would be injured from the exposure and, therefore, was not liable in a civil suit under the state workers’ compensation laws. As our Anderson workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, generally, if an employee is injured on the job, he or she will be limited to filing a claim for workers’ compensation benefits and prohibited from filing a lawsuit. One exception to this involves an act of serious misconduct on the part of the employer.

After respondent filed a motion to for summary judgment, the trial court denied the motion. Respondent then appealed to the intermediary court of appeals, which reversed the trial court’s decision. At this point, petitioner appealed to the state supreme court.

On appeal, the court looked at whether there was enough evidence to support the allegation that respondent had acted with deliberate intention in a way that caused petitioner to be injured. In other words, did the employer have actual knowledge that an injury was certain to occur?

Ultimately, the court rejected petitioner’s argument that respondent had actual knowledge that his specific injury would certainly occur. While the court recognized that this was an extremely narrow test, case law supported a finding that petitioner did not have such actual knowledge. The court affirmed the court of appeals’ reversal of the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its holding.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Walston v. Boeing Co., September 18, 2014, Washington State Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Graven v. N.C. Dept. of Public Safety – Injuries From Holiday Lunch Accident Not Compensable
, Aug. 15, 2014, Anderson Work Injury Lawyer Blog

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