Court Limits Design Professionals’ Immunity Under Workers’ Comp Law

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Design professionals “retained to perform professional services on a construction project” in Washington are generally immune from third-party workers’ compensation lawsuits, unless the design professional contractually assumes responsibility for the safety of others or negligently prepares design plans or specifications. The state Supreme Court limited this statutory immunity last week when it held that an engineering firm was not entitled to the Industrial Insurance Act’s (“IIA”) immunity for the death of a sewage treatment plant worker. The case had two key rulings:

1. The Court ruled that there was no construction occurring in connection with the specific design work at issue, which consequently deprived the firm of the immunity protection; and

2. The Court said that the firm had negligently prepared design plans and specifications, even though none of those plans or specifications had been put in writing.

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