A review of several cases shows the erratic nature of employment injury claims:
- Most claims are handled on an administrative basis by the Department of Labor and Industries. If the employer contests the claim, it will go to the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. In some cases, the plaintiff's attorney may have to go to Superior Court to get a discovery order for obtaining employer records.
- Boeing employee Robert Strom's claims that he was used as a human guinea pig and subjected to dangerous electromagnetic radiation was eventually settled out of court because Strom proved that Boeing knowingly exposed him to harm and monitored his health during that exposure.
- Auburn workers have prevailed on several claims. First, they settled confidentially with the maker of the phenolic "pre-preg", Ferro Corp. They also settled out of court on claims that Boeing discriminated against them at work because they suffered from chemical sensitivities. However, a federal judge in Seattle ruled that Boeing did not mean to intentionally harm them. Now 12 workers are appealing that decision at the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. Individual workers are still trying to get disability benefits before the state Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals.
- Nine workers at General Plastics, a Boeing subcontractor in Tacoma, won a suit in Superior Court claiming that the company knowingly failed to protect its workers. However, General Plastics has appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Attorneys note that is it still cost effective for employers to battle this cases in court. Paying for a disability in which a person can no longer work, could cost upwards of $150,000.
Given the financial destitution and ill health of many chemically injured workers, attorneys are now selecting their cases carefully. Matt Sweeting hopes to establish a non-profit organization, the Chemical Injury Research Foundation, to continue his involvement with chemically injured people.
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Contents on this page were published in the February/March, 1994 edition of the Washington Free
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