Representing the Injured or Disabled Member Part 41: Permanent Disabilities and the Injured Public Safety Officer

By: Jim Cline and Erica Shelley Nelson

Representing the Injured or Disabled Member

Part 41: Permanent Disabilities and the Injured Public Safety Officer

This article is the 41st in a multiple part series covering the rights your injured and disabled members have and how you, as a union or guild representative, can best assist them.  Over the past several weeks we published, and continuing for the next several weeks we’ll be publishing, in various segments, information on how state and federal laws protect your members who are hurt or otherwise unable to work. We will cover topics including disability discrimination law, the FMLA, job protection rights under the CBA, workers compensation, disability benefits, and the right to bring a civil lawsuit.

The topics we are covering are also addressed in detail in an upcoming book that we recently published: HELPING THE INJURED OR DISABLED MEMBER: A GUIDEBOOK FOR THE WASHINGTON LAW ENFORCEMENT AND FIRE UNION REPRESENTATIVE. It is also our intention over the course of the next year to travel through the state and provide training to public safety union and guild representatives on how best to enforce these rights. Expect to hear more on that in the months ahead.

This 41st article in these newsletter series provides a discussion concerning employees who are permanently disabled and what their rights are. For more information, visit our Premium Website . On the website you’ll find an on line version of the Injured or Disabled Member’s Guidebook and other information on the laws covering your members.

Unfortunately, injuries occur in the workplace that render an injured member permanently and totally disabled from all work. “Permanent total disability” is statutorily defined as “loss of both legs, arms, or one leg and one arm, total loss of eyesight, paralysis or other condition permanently incapacitating the worker from performing any work at any gainful employment.” Most permanently disabled workers fall under the “other condition” category.

An injured worker is not required to be “absolutely helpless” or “physically broken and wrecked” to be permanently disabled under the IIA. In determining whether an injured worker is “permanently disabled,” the whole person is considered, which includes all pre-existing and other conditions, in addition to the condition caused by the workplace injury. Nevertheless, the industrial injury or occupational disease must be a proximate cause of the disability rendering the worker unable to perform any gainful employment.

When the Department or self-insured employer determines that the injured member is permanently and totally disabled, the member is entitled to monthly disability pension payments for the remainder of their life. The amount of the monthly disability pension is determined by which option is selected by the injured worker. Option I allows the injured worker to receive the full extent of the benefits available during his or her lifetime, with benefits ending upon death. Option II allows the injured worker to receive a reduced benefit, which, upon death continues and is paid to a surviving spouse, child, or other dependent. Option III also provides for a reduced benefit, and upon death, one-half of the reduced benefit is paid to the surviving spouse, child, or other dependent. Other federal and private programs are also available to the permanently disabled officer or firefighter, as set forth below in our recently published Member Guidebook referenced above.


[1] RCW 51.08.160.
[2] Kuhnle v. Department of Labor & Indus., 12 Wn.2d 191, 197, 120 P.2d 1003 (1942).
[3] Wendt v. Department of Labor & Indus., 18 Wn. App. 674, 682-83, 571 P.2d 229, 235 (1977).
[4] Id.
[5] RCW 51.32.067.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.

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