Weekly news and updates from Washington's workers' comp and workplace safety leader
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The WSIA Weekly, 10.14.16

Top News:

2016-17 L&I rate assessment notices arrive this week

Employers and their claims administrators should be receiving the Department's rate assessment notices for 2016-17 for the administrative assessment (rate notice here) and the Second Injury Fund assessment (rate notice here). While the administrative assessment rate holds more or less steady, moving from .0550 last year to .0585 this year for most employers, brace yourselves for significant increases in Second Injury Fund (SIF) assessment costs, where the assessment rate jumps substantially from .0796 last year to .1326 this year. Depending on an employers' SIF experience factor and total claims costs, the new rate could drive substantial cost increase. L&I blames the need for a higher rate on declining pension investment yields.

WSIA has been at the forefront of efforts to keep SIF and other assessments as low as possible. The Department in particular has plans to propose even higher future rates for the SIF for purposes of building a cash reserve in the fund, and we have resisted higher cost increases. We will be convening discussions around this development in the near future, and members wishing to get involved are encouraged to reach out to Kris Tefft.    

L&I briefs employer coalition on upcoming legislative budget requests
Last week, representatives from the Department of Labor & Industries briefed participants in the Employers' Workers' Compensation Coalition on the agency's budget requests to the Legislature for the 2017-19 biennia. In all the agency is seeking nearly $47 million in increased funding for 78 new FTEs to work on claims management issues and changes in the Department's service delivery model. While the requests primarily hit the State Fund, they are sure to spark vigorous discussion during the 2017 legislative session. For a copy of the documents the Department shared, click here. Convened principally by WSIA, the Employers' Workers' Comp Coalition is a voluntary group of State Fund and Self-Insured employers, associations, and professional service providers meeting regularly and working collaboratively toward legislative and regulatory reform. It's open to any employer/employer representative - contact Kris Tefft for more information.  

BIIA judicial performance review surveys published
The Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals has just released this month the 2016 judicial performance evaluations of the Board's hearing and mediation judges performed by the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University. This survey, completed every few years, surveys both claimants and lawyers, paralegals, and other representatives who appear before the Board, and goes judge-by-judge on numerous factors. While most judges as a whole get high marks in general, the survey's detailed data break-downs are interesting to review. For a copy of the report, click here

US Labor Department issues report on federal oversight of workers' comp
Last week, as part of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Labor and various interest groups to make the case for increased federal oversight or involvement in state workers' compensation programs, the DOL released a report entitled “Does the Workers’ Compensation System Fulfill Its Obligations to Injured Workers?” The report repeats a series of assumptions about the inadequacy of the state workers’ compensation system as the basis for the suggestion that consideration be given to the creation of a federal commission and federal standards to be imposed on state workers’ compensation. It's sure to spawn legislative efforts in the U.S. Congress and be a subject of debate nationally. You can read the report here

NASI issues annual workers' comp cost report
On the same day as the federal Department of Labor report, the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) released its annual report, "Workers' Compensation: Benefits, Coverage, Costs" for 2016 (the report analyzes 2014 data due to a reporting lag). Although the report historically has difficulty comparing Washington's employer costs to other states, due to our worker-paid portion of the State Fund premium and our hourly versus payroll basis of assessment, our friends at the Washington Research Council demonstrate that the report continues to show Washington pays out the most in benefits per covered worker in the country, and has for many many years, suggesting Washington's benefit costs continue to be the highest in the country. Click here for a copy of the report.

Court of Appeals publishes far-ranging third party recovery decision
Earlier this month, the Washington Court of Appeals published its decision in Carrera v. Olmstead, a workers' compensation third party suit, where the issues involved Labor & Industries' attempts to see non-economic damages on behalf of the injured worker, and whether the Department is bound by the tort statute of limitations in doing so. Relying on the notorious Tobin decision of the Washington Supreme Court, the appeals court held the Department may seek and recover, but not retain, non-economic damages on the part of the worker, and even more interestingly, that the Department has sovereign immunity and therefore is not subject to any statute of limitations in pursuing a third party action. The court's questionable analysis on that point sets up a clear disparity between the State Fund and self-insurance when it comes to statutes of limitation. Take a look at the decision here

Interesting Dog-Bites-Man ruling from Washington Supreme Court
Also from the courts, the Washington Supreme Court yesterday released an interesting decision that undoubtedly first arose as a workers' compensation matter. It involves a city police officer's suit against the county, the sheriff's office, and a sheriff's deputy over a dog bite from a K-9 dog during a joint law enforcement operation. The officer asserted the legal theory of strict liability for the dog bite, but the court held that strict liability doesn't apply when it's a police dog on duty. Read the interesting fact pattern and court's analysis here.  

WSIA News & Events:

If you want to attend Legal Workshop, get your registration in!
There are about five spaces left before we hit our cap for next week's Legal Issues Workshop, our popular annual legal summit taking place Oct. 20th and 21st in Gig Harbor. If you're planing to attend or giving it serious thought, definitely get your registration in. Discussion leaders Ann Silvernale of Holmes Weddle and Barcott and Krishna Balasabrumani of Sather, Byerly & Holloway have planned an excellent two-day agenda with guest presenters on almost every topic. Check out the program information and registration page here

Still time to join in on the 5-part webinar series on IME ratings
We're excited to offer something totally different this fall in that we have a five-part webinar series on the use of the AMA Guides for rating impairments for every part of the body and mind, and we're offering the first four parts either live here in the WSIA office with presenter Dr. Dagher, or simulcast over our webinar platform. And we've bunched all five together with a special price, or folks can attend/participate a la carte. For anyone dealing with APs, IMEs, PPDs, and the aftermath, this is a great series. The first one is October 27th, and they run through early December (and will be available in archive). Check out the full series web page here

Intro to Claims -- now with HR credits
Our annual Introduction to Claims training for those new to workers' compensation or new to Washington's system, is now registering and filling up. This is one of our first training events utilizing WSIA's new training center at our office in Olympia, and space is limited. This is also a perfect training to mention to your friends and colleagues in Human Resources who may be taking a greater role in their company's workers' compensation program or need to know more about the system -- and now in our partnership with HRCI and SHRM, we're offering HR recertification credits for the training as well as the standard workers' compensation continuing ed credits. Check out the training info and registration page here.

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