From Advertiser Attorney W. Tracy Codd:

FILE – In this Sept. 24, 2015 file photo, officials with the Seattle Police Department work at the scene of a crash involving a “Ride the Ducks” amphibious, military-style tour vehicle, right, and a charter passenger bus, left, that killed four people in Seattle. The story was a top Washington state news item in 2015. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee Approves Changes to Washington’s Wrongful Death Statutes

A proposal in part prompted by the 2015 “Ride the Ducks” wreck on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle previously approved by both the Washington Senate and the House of Representatives is now law. Governor Jay Inslee approved significant changes to Washington’s wrongful death statutes on April 26, 2019.

The “Ride the Ducks” wreck drew attention to Washington’s wrongful death statutes. In the well-documented accident, an amphibious “Ride the Ducks” tourist vehicle veered into oncoming traffic, killing five and injuring 69 when it struck a tour bus full of foreign students.

Under prior wrongful death actions, the decedent’s estate was allowed to bring a cause of action on behalf of specified beneficiaries for damages they suffered as a result of the decedent’s death.

For primary beneficiaries—the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner and children—actual pecuniary losses were recoverable, including intangible losses such as the loss of the decedent’s support, services, love, affection, care, companionship, society, and consortium. These provisions remain.

Secondary beneficiaries—the parents and siblings—were entitled to recover only if: (1) there are no primary beneficiaries; (2) they were dependent on the decedent for support; and (3) they resided within the United States at the time of the decedent’s death.

Under prior law, Washington parents did not have the legal right to hold wrongdoers accountable for the preventable, negligent death of an adult child who was not married or did not have children.

The residency requirement was especially controversial. “This law has its roots in racist origins,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle. State documents date the provision in the law to 1909. The provision stemmed from efforts by business interests at the beginning of the 20th century to block claims made by the families of Chinese miners and railroad workers killed in workplace accidents

Some Republican legislators had objected to the bill, warning that expanding the number of people able to file wrongful death claims would ultimately increase legal costs for the state and other entities. Notably, hospitals and other health care providers.

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, pointed to the proposal’s estimated $7.4 million price tag over the coming two years. “You have to realize that this is money that we can’t spend for other important things,” Braun said.

Some organizations expressed concern with Washington’s “joint and several liability” rule, which says if one party is found 1 percent liable for a cause of action, they would still be 100 percent liable for damages if other liable parties were unable to pay. Expanding the number of beneficiaries would increase liability insurance premiums, they argued.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, acknowledged the cost of the bill, but he said he thought the potential costs of wrongful deaths would serve as motivation for the state and private employers to improve safety.
Highlights of the new law are as follows:

  • Parents are granted equal legal rights to hold wrongdoers accountable for the wrongful death of an adult child who was unmarried and childless;
  • Parents residing outside Washington state or the United States are granted equal legal rights to hold negligent wrongdoers accountable for the death of their adult child killed in Washington state.
  • All families are treated equally under the law by eliminating discriminations against families of developmentally disabled adults, international students and residents, nonresident parents or unmarried adults who are childless.

Other provisions of the new law would allow parents of adult children to seek recoveries if they had “significant involvement” in the child’s life. That includes “either giving or receiving emotional, psychological support to or from the child.”

The new legislation is also designated as remedial and applies retroactively to all claims that are not time barred, as well as any claims pending in any court on the effective date of the legislation. The new law is scheduled to take effect on July 27, 2019.

If you have a question regarding Washington’s wrongful death statutes, please feel free to contact us to help you determine the best way to proceed.

W. Tracy Codd has been representing persons involved in serious auto accidents since 1987. Call for a free consultation.

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Phone: 206-248-6152

Email: [email protected]

Web: www.TracyCodd.com