One thing that new clients often do not understand is that the law sometimes acts in complimentary ways. The outcome of a criminal trial can affect the outcome of a civil trial based on the same issues. A recent published opinion from the Washington Court of Appeals demonstrates how criminal proceedings, or the lack thereof, can interact with Workers' Compensation claims.
In 2008, Bart Rowley drove a tractor-trailer off an overpass on Washington State Highway 599, landing on the road below. Rowley had been a truck driver for 33 years.
An officer went to the hospital to investigate the accident. While there, a staff member informed him about a surprise they found in Rowley's pocket: a plastic bag with smiley faces on it. By this time, Rowley's clothing had already been discarded. A staff member had also dumped the substance in the bag down the sink and placed the bag in the trash. The officer requested that a nurse retrieve the bag from the trash.
Upon examining the bag, the officer saw a substance that appeared to him like methamphetamine.
The officer placed Rowley under arrest for DUI and asked a nurse to draw Rowley's blood for testing. A toxicology report shows that Rowley's blood contained traces of methamphetamines.
Rowley sustained significant injuries in his accident. He was in an induced coma for over a month and remains partially paralyzed in a wheelchair. He made a workers' compensation claim, which was rejected because, under RCW 51.32.020, claimants cannot be compensated for injuries sustained during the intentional commission of a felony.
Rowley's claim then bounced around between various appellate boards and courts. Before landing at the Court of Appeals, the Pierce County Superior Court concluded that, for a claimant to be barred from recovering for their workplace injuries, the Department of Labor and Industries must show by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence that the injury occurred during the commission of the felony. This is a lower standard than the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. They went on to say that the Department had not proved that the substance in the baggie was methamphetamine.
The Court of Appeals generally agreed. Washington courts do not require proof of criminal conviction in civil cases as parties can meet their burden of proof by presenting evidence that the crime occurred. Here, the Department provided neither proof of conviction nor sufficient proof that Rowley was guilty of felony drug possession.
The Court of Appeals, however, did rule that the Department could meet their burden without showing lab evidence that the substance was methamphetamine.
If you have been injured on the job and have been accused of a felony from the same accident, this case should change how you consider who will represent you. As the Department need not show proof a criminal conviction, part of your civil proceedings will become criminal in nature. If you are in this situation, consider speaking to a criminal defense attorney in addition to one specializing in workers' compensation claims.
If you have been, or could be, charged with a felony for an accident that may qualify for workers' compensation in and around Seattle in King, Pierce, or Snohomish Counties, it is imperative that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Attorney Kevin Trombold has decades of experiencing representing those accused of crimes. Do not hesitate to contact him today for a free consultation.