How Can I Reopen a Workers’ Compensation Claim in Washington?
Updated: Mar 21
Workers' compensation is a system designed to provide benefits to employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. If you have been injured at work, you are entitled to benefits under Washington's workers' compensation system. However, what happens if your claim is closed and your injury or condition worsens? Can you reopen your workers' compensation claim? The answer is yes, and in this article, we'll discuss how you can reopen a workers' compensation claim in Washington State.
Understanding Workers' Compensation in Washington
Washington's workers' compensation system is governed by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The system provides medical treatment, wage replacement, and other benefits to employees who are injured on the job. In exchange for these benefits, employees give up the right to sue their employers for negligence.
Under Washington law, an injured worker has one year from the date of injury to file a workers' compensation claim. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if an injury or illness is not immediately apparent, the one-year deadline may be extended. In addition, if the employer or the L&I does not dispute the claim within one year, the injured worker may still be eligible for benefits.
The Importance of Seeking Medical Treatment
If you are injured on the job, the first thing you should do is seek medical treatment. Even if your injury seems minor, it's important to get it checked out by a medical professional. Not only will this ensure that you receive the proper care, but it will also create a record of your injury that may be important if you need to reopen your workers' compensation claim later. You should also report your injury to your employer as soon as possible. Failure to report your injury within the required timeframe could result in a denial of your claim.
When Can You Reopen a Workers' Compensation Claim?
There are several situations in which you may be able to reopen a workers' compensation claim in Washington. These include:
1. Your Condition Has Worsened
If your injury or condition has worsened since your claim was closed, you may be able to reopen your claim. For example, if you suffered a back injury at work and the symptoms have gotten worse over time, you may be eligible for additional benefits. You will need a doctor to show the objective worsening through medical tests (MRIs, x-rays, other diagnostic imaging), examination, and review of further history.
2. Your Medical Condition Was Misdiagnosed
If your medical condition was misdiagnosed, you may be able to reopen your claim. For example, if your doctor initially diagnosed your injury as a sprain, but it turns out that you have a more serious condition like a herniated disc, you may be eligible for additional benefits. It will also depend on what has been accepted on your claim at the time of closure.
3. Your Claim Was Closed Prematurely
If your claim was closed prematurely, you may be able to reopen it. For example, if your employer or the L&I denied your claim without fully investigating the circumstances of your injury, you may be able to appeal the decision and reopen your claim. You only have 60 days to file an appeal on any order issued by the Department of Labor & Industries. Do not delay if you disagree with an order.
How to Reopen a Workers' Compensation Claim
If you believe that you are eligible to reopen your workers' compensation claim, you should take the following steps:
1. Contact the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I)
The first step in reopening your claim is to contact L&I. You can do this by phone, email, or in person. You will need to get a re-opening application to fill out and send in.
2. Provide Additional Medical Evidence
To reopen your claim, you will need to provide additional medical evidence that supports your case. This may include medical records, test results, and doctor's reports. It's important to gather as much evidence as possible to support your claim. Your doctor will need to fill out part of the re-opening application stating how your claim has objectively worsened.
3. Attend a Hearing
If the L&I determines that you are not eligible to reopen your claim, you may be required to attend a hearing. At the hearing, you will have the opportunity to present your case and any additional evidence that you have gathered. The hearing will be conducted by a Board of Industrial Appeals judge, who will review the evidence and make a decision on whether to reopen your claim.
If the judge determines that you are eligible to reopen your claim, you will be entitled to additional benefits. However, if the judge denies your request to reopen your claim, you may still have the option to appeal the decision.
An Experienced Workers’ Compensation Attorney Can Help
It's important to remember that every case is unique, and the process of reopening a workers' compensation claim can be complex. If you are considering reopening your claim, it's a good idea to consult with an experienced workers' compensation attorney who can help guide you through the process and advocate for your rights.
Scott & Scott, PLLC can help you with the process of reopening a workers’ compensation claim in the greater Seattle area. Call us today at (206) 622-2200.