Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Construction Law
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Gregory and Sue Tadych filed suit after the one-year limitation period to bring a construction defect suit expired. The trial court entered summary judgment, dismissing the suit and upholding the contractual limitation. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court found the contractual limitation here was substantively unconscionable and, therefore, void and unenforceable. "The one-year limitation provision provides a substantially shorter limitations period than plaintiffs are otherwise entitled to under RCW 4.16.310 and benefits the contractor at the expense of the rights of the homeowner." Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for trial. View "Tadych v. Noble Ridge Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. Cox Construction was the general contractor of a remodeling project. Cox hired Baker & Son Construction, Inc. as a subcontractor. A Baker employee allegedly caused a two-by-four to fall from a railing and strike Ronnie Cox, owner of Cox Construction, who later died from his injury. Baker allegedly called an insurance agent to alert them of the incident. The agent told Baker that no action needed to be taken because at that time, no claim existed. A few months later, Baker received a wrongful death claim from an attorney representing Cox’s widow. Baker notified its insurer, Preferred Contractors Insurance Company (PCIC) of the claim. PCIC denied coverage, but agreed to defend Baker under a reservation of rights. The certified question to the Washington Supreme Court related to the “claims-made” nature of the policy and the timing of Baker’s tender of Ms. Cox’s claim. The Supreme Court replied to the certified question that in light of RCW 18.27, a contractor’s commercial general liability insurance policy that requires the loss to occur and be reported within the same policy year, and provides neither neither prospective nor retroactive coverage violates Washington’s public policy. View "Preferred Contractors Ins. Co. v. Baker & Son Constr., Inc." on Justia Law

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In federal court, Plaintiff Timothy Martin sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) and three DOC-employed medical providers, alleging Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution violations under 42 U.S.C. 1983, and medical malpractice under state law. Following the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the federal district court certified three questions of Washington state law to the Washington Supreme Court, all relating to whether RCW 7.70.150’s requirement of a certificate of merit for medical malpractice suits against state agents was constitutional. The Washington Court held that RCW 7.70.150 was invalid on its face based on Putman v. Wenatchee Valley Med. Ctr., PS, 216 P.3d 374 (2009), and on statutory language that did not differentiate between private and public defendants. Because the Supreme Court answered certified question 1 in the affirmative, it did not reach the federal court's remaining questions. View "Martin v. Dep't of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Glacier Northwest Inc. claimed the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174 (Local 174) was liable for concrete product loss during a strike and for an alleged misrepresentation by a union representative that Glacier claims interfered with its ability to service a concrete mat pour. The trial court ruled the strike-related claims were preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and granted summary judgment for Local 174 on the misrepresentation claims. Glacier appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed on the preemption issue but affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the misrepresentation claims. The Washington Supreme Court granted review and accepted amicus curiae briefing from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, to address whether an employer’s state tort claims against its truck drivers’ union were preempted by the NLRA, and whether any claims that were not preempted were properly dismissed by the trial court. The Supreme Court concluded the NLRA preempted Glacier’s tort claims related to the loss of its concrete product because that loss was incidental to a strike arguably protected by federal law. The Court also affirmed the dismissal of Glacier’s misrepresentation claims because the union representative’s promise of future action was not a statement of existing fact on which those claims could be properly based, and because the statement was not a proximate cause of Glacier’s losses. View "Glacier Nw., Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters Local Union No. 174" on Justia Law

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Lake Hills Investments LLC sued AP Rushforth (AP) for breach of contract, alleging, among other things, that the work AP conducted on the Lake Hills Village project was defective. AP counterclaimed that Lake Hills underpaid them. At trial, an affirmative defense instruction (jury instruction 9) was given, stating that “AP has the burden to prove that Lake Hills provided the plans and specifications for an area of work at issue, that AP followed those plans and specifications, and that the [construction] defect resulted from defects in the plans or specifications. If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that this affirmative defense has been proved for a particular area, then your verdict should be for AP as to that area.” The Court of Appeals held that this instruction understated AP’s burden of proof and allowed the jury to find that if any part of the construction defect resulted from Lake Hills’ plans and specifications, then the jury could find for AP. The court concluded that the error was not harmless, reversed, and remanded for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, finding that although jury instruction 9 had the potential to mislead the jury, Lake Hills could not show it was prejudiced. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for the appellate court to consider issues related to the trial court's award of attorney fees. View "Lake Hills Invs., LLC v. Rushforth Constr. Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Gildardo Vargas was working on a construction project when a concrete-carrying hose hit him in the head, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Vargas and his family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the general contractor was directly liable for providing a safe workplace, and whether any breach proximately caused Vargas’ injury. View "Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Freedom Foundation filed a public records request for documents relating to union organizing by several University of Washington (UW) faculty members. The UW asked one of the faculty to search his e-mail accounts for responsive records, and after reviewing those records, gave notice that it intended to release many of them in the absence of an injunction. Respondent Service Employees International Union 925 sued to enjoin release of any union-related records, arguing they were not "public records" under 42.56 RCW, the Washington Public Records Act. The trial court granted the injunction and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Foundation petitioned the Washington Supreme Court for review, arguing that the "scope of employment test" employed by the trial court and affirmed on appeal, only applied to records stored on an employee's personal device, and should not have been extended to records on public agencies' e-mail servers. The Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Local 925 v. Univ. of Wash." on Justia Law

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The City of Olympia, Washington contracted with NOVA Contracting, Inc. to replace a deteriorating culvert. The contract contained a "notice of protest" provision, which was taken from the Washington Department of Transportation's "standard Specifications for Road, Bridge, and Municipal Construction (2012) manual. NOVA sued the City for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; the City moved to dismiss based in part on NOVA's filature to file a protest first before taking the City to court. The trial court dismissed NOVA's claim, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Washington Supreme Court has addressed this written notice issue twice before; the Court of Appeals interpreted those holdings, however, as only applying to claims for cost of work performed and not claims for expectancy and consequential damages. The Supreme Court held the two prior cases applied even to claims of expectancy and consequential damages. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "NOVA Contracting, Inc. v. City of Olympia" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the applicability of a broad, absolute insurance pollution exclusion clause to a claim based on negligent installation of a hot water heater that led to the release of toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a residential home. Zhaoyun "Julia" Xia purchased a new home constructed by Issaquah Highlands 48 LLC. Issaquah Highlands carried a policy of commercial general liability insurance through ProBuilders. Soon after moving into her home, Xia began to feel ill. A service technician from Puget Sound Energy investigated Xia's home and discovered that an exhaust vent attached to the hot water heater had not been installed correctly and was discharging carbon monoxide directly into the confines of the basement room. The claims administrator for ProBuilders, NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. (NBIS), mailed a letter to Xia indicating that coverage was not available under the Issaquah Highlands policy. As a basis for its declination of coverage, NBIS rested on two exclusions under the policy: a pollution exclusion and a townhouse exclusion. NBIS refused to either defend or indemnify Issaquah Highlands for Xia's loss. When a nonpolluting event that was a covered occurrence causes toxic pollution to be released, resulting in damages, the Washington Supreme Court believed the only principled way for determining whether the damages are covered or not was to undertake an efficient proximate cause analysis. Under the facts presented here, the Court found ProBuilders Specialty Insurance Co. correctly identified the existence of an excluded polluting occurrence under the unambiguous language of its policy. However, it ignored the existence of a covered occurrence negligent installation-that was the efficient proximate cause of the claimed loss. Accordingly, coverage for this loss existed under the policy, and ProBuilders's refusal to defend its insured was in bad faith. View "Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The issue centered on how the term "collapse" was interpreted under Washington law in an insurance policy that insured "accidental direct physical loss involving collapse," subject to the policy's terms, conditions, exclusions and other provisions, but did not define "collapse" except to state that "collapse [did] not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion." The Washington Court concluded that in the insurance contract, "collapse" means "substantial impairment of structural integrity." "Substantial impairment of structural integrity" means substantial impairment of the structural integrity of a building or part of a building that renders such building or part of a building unfit for its function or unsafe and, under the clear language of the insurance policy here, must be more than mere settling, cracking, shrinkage, bulging, or expansion. View "Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co." on Justia Law