Copyright (c) 2002 Seattle University Law Review
Seattle University Law Review
NOTE: Cockle: Importing Health Benefits Into Wages - An Invitation for Legislative Review of the Wage Definition Under Washington's Industrial Insurance Act
25 Seattle U. L. Rev. 637
Matthew H. Adams*
Every day workers suffer work-related injuries or illnesses. Since the early twentieth century, society has compensated injured workers through the workers' compensation system. 2 As part of their compensation, workers receive wage-replacement benefits for disabilities, medical expenses, and vocational rehabilitation. 3 The amount of benefits received by a worker is based upon the worker's wages at the time of injury. 4
Like most states, Washington has a complicated workers' compensation statute, the Industrial Insurance Act (IIA), 5 which sets forth a formula for calculating wages. IIA defines "wages" as monetary payment in addition to the value of "board, housing, fuel, or consideration of like nature" to those items. 6 The phrase "other consideration of like nature" has been the subject of much litigation regarding the intent of Washington's Legislature (Legislature). The Washington Supreme Court recently interpreted this phrase in Cockle v. Department of Labor & Industries, 7 holding for the first time that IIA's definition of "wages" includes the reasonable value of employer-provided health insurance.
Cockle represents a sea change in Washington's industrial insurance law because fringe benefits have never been included in the definition of "wages" under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 51.08.178. Including health insurance as wages conflicts with common wage definitions. 8 Therefore, the Cockle decision creates the impetus for a bitter struggle over the calculation of workers' compensation under IIA. 9 This struggle will have long-term effects on stakeholders, particularly self-insured employers and state agencies that administer and adjudicate ...
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