Washington's Industrial Insurance Act immunizes employers from tort actions brought by their injured employees. Dissatisfied with the modest compensation assured by the Act, employees often seek other parties to sue. Manufacturers who supply job-related equipment to employers are popular defendants because they are unprotected by the Act. In Seattle-First National Bank v. Shoreline Concrete Co. the Washington Supreme Court rendered the manufacturer's role as the employer's cotortfeasor particularly onerous. With only a cursory examination of policy, the court interpreted the Act as immunizing employers from suits by manufacturers for contribution, indemnity, or apportionment. In rejecting the trial court's innovative attempt to reconcile competing interests, the court also reaffirmed Washington's rule of joint and several liability for multiple tortfeasors. The court thus deprived manufacturers of all avenues of relief against employer-cotortfeasors and left them liable for the employer's share of the losses as well as their own. This note examines the historical rationale and questionable contemporary utility of absolute employer immunity and joint and several liability. It concludes that the problem of distributing losses fairly among injured workers, their employers, and manufacturers of job-related equipment should be solved by imposing liability according to fault, with the employer's share of the damages deemed satisfied by his premium payments into the industrial insurance fund.
Cheryl A. Johnson,
Workers' Compensation—Third-Party Tort Liability to Injured Workers Under R.C.W. Title 51—Seattle-First National Bank v. Shoreline Concrete Co., 91 Wn. 2d 230, 588 P.2d 1308 (1978),
55 Wash. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol55/iss1/6