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Court Denies Fishing Company's Request For Vocational Exam of Injured Worker

In a case currently pending in King County, Seattle, Elliottt v. Seafreeze Alaska, et al., a Superior Court a judge has denied Seafreeze Alaska's motion to have an injured fish processor examined by a vocational counselor.

Under Washington State Court Rules, a defendant in a Jones Act injury lawsuit may, upon good cause shown, select a doctor to examine an injured seaman. The true independence of these exams is highly questionable, as some medical doctors make a living testifying for insurance companies. Washington Court Rule 35 specifically states the exams are to be conducted by a physician or psychologist. Nevertheless, in many cases, fishing companies have sought to extend the rule and have the injured crewman interviewed and tested by a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Routinely, these defense-hired vocational experts offer opinions that seriously injured workers can find alternate employment in less demanding physical occupations and that therefore the worker is not entitled to future lost wages. Defense vocational examinations are sometimes utilized by Defendants to circumvent the Court Rules which prohibit contacts with an injured seaman without his attorney being present. The vocational interview can be abused and turned into a fishing expedition into areas not relevant to the injury claim and/or matters which are privileged. Rule 35 examinations should be strictly limited to examinations by medical doctors and psychologists. Rule 35 should not be used for purposes of examinations by a vocational counselor.

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