From Advertiser Attorney W. Tracy Codd:
Washington Governor Jay Inslee Approves Changes to Washingtonâ€™s Wrongful Death Statutes
A proposal in part prompted by the 2015 â€œRide the Ducksâ€ 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 Washingtonâ€™s wrongful death statutes on April 26, 2019.
The â€œRide the Ducksâ€ wreck drew attention to Washingtonâ€™s wrongful death statutes. In the well-documented accident, an amphibious â€œRide the Ducksâ€ 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 decedentâ€™s estate was allowed to bring a cause of action on behalf of specified beneficiaries for damages they suffered as a result of the decedentâ€™s death.
For primary beneficiariesâ€”the decedentâ€™s spouse or domestic partner and childrenâ€”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 beneficiariesâ€”the parents and siblingsâ€”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 decedentâ€™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. â€œThis law has its roots in racist origins,â€ 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 proposalâ€™s estimated $7.4 million price tag over the coming two years. â€œYou have to realize that this is money that we canâ€™t spend for other important things,â€ Braun said.
Some organizations expressed concern with Washingtonâ€™s â€œjoint and several liabilityâ€ 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 â€œsignificant involvementâ€ in the childâ€™s life. That includes â€œeither giving or receiving emotional, psychological support to or from the child.â€
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 Washingtonâ€™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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