Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Birrueta v. Dep’t of Labor & Indus.
After the Department of Labor and Industries (Department) learned it had been overpaying respondent Jose Birrueta's industrial insurance benefits for years, it issued two orders, one assessing an overpayment and another changing Birrueta's status from married to unmarried for compensation purposes. Because Birrueta was overpaid due solely to an innocent misrepresentation about his marital status made on his behalf, the Supreme Court held the Department's orders were timely and authorized. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the ruling of the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals upholding the Department's orders. View "Birrueta v. Dep't of Labor & Indus." on Justia Law
N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist.
N.L. met Nicholas Clark at school track practice. She was 14, and he was 18. Both were students in the Bethel School District. Neither N.L. nor any responsible adult on the field knew that Clark was a registered sex offender who had previously sexually assaulted a younger girl who had been about N.L. 'sage at the time. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department had informed Clark's school principal of his sex offender status, but the principal took no action in response. Clark persuaded N.L. to leave campus with him and raped her. N.L. sued the district, alleging negligence. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the School District’s duty to N.L. ended when she left campus and whether its alleged negligence, as a matter of law, was not a proximate cause of her injury. The Court answered both questions “no,” affirming the Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing the trial court’s dismissal of this case on summary judgment. View "N.L. v. Bethel Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Nelson v. Erickson
Petitioner-plaintiff Jess Nelson sued defendant-respondent Erickson for personal injuries after a car accident. They went to mandatory arbitration, and the arbitrator awarded the plaintiff a total of $44,923. Of that total award, $1,522 was for attorney fees and costs. Defendant decided to seek trial de novo. In an effort to avoid trial, plaintiff offered to settle for "$26,000 plus taxable costs incurred at arbitration." This language from the settlement offer was the center of the legal dispute in this case. Defendant did not respond to the offer, and the parties went to trial. The jury awarded the plaintiff $24,167. Upon plaintiff's motion for additur, the judge added $3,000 for future noneconomic damages. This brought the total award at trial to $27,167. Plaintiff then moved for attorney fees, arguing that defendant had not improved his position at trial. The trial judge agreed and awarded plaintiff $58,908 in attorney fees and $4,488 in costs. Defendant appealed, arguing that the settlement offer was actually for $26,000 plus the known arbitration costs of $1,522. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether defendant improved his position at trial. After review, the Court held that defendant's position prior to trial should have been interpreted as an ordinary person would. Applying that rule, defendant improved his position at trial and was not required to pay the opposing party's attorney fees. View "Nelson v. Erickson" on Justia Law
Centurion Props. III, LLC v. Chi. Title Ins. Co.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court: "Does a title company owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments?" This certified question arose out of a civil action for money damages. Plaintiffs Centurion Properties Ill LLC (CP Ill) and SMI Group XIV LLC (collectively Plaintiffs) asserted that defendant Chicago Title Insurance Company negligently breached its duty of care and caused damages when it recorded unauthorized liens on CP Ill's property. The Washington Supreme Court answered the Ninth Circuit's question "no," holding that title companies did not owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments. "Such a duty is contrary to Washington's policy and precedent, and other duty of care considerations." View "Centurion Props. III, LLC v. Chi. Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home
Ho Im Bae died from acute morphine intoxication at Lakeside Adult Family Home. Esther Kim, the personal representative of Bae's estate, brought tort claims against several individuals involved in Bae's care. The issue this appeal presented for the Supreme Court's review came from Alpha Nursing & Services Inc. and two of its nurses, who did not provide nursing services to Bae, but who were alleged to have observed signs of abuse and physical assault that should have been reported to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and law enforcement. Specifically, the issue was whether the abuse of vulnerable adults act (AVAA) created an implied cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that one of the nurses did not have a duty to report and the other nurse fulfilled her reporting duty by contacting DSHS. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this issue: "[t]he AVAA creates a private cause of action against mandated reporters who fail to report abuse, and genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment." A separate issue was whether the claims against one of the nurses should have been dismissed for insufficient service. The nurse, Christine Thomas, moved to Norway, and plaintiff personally served her there almost a year after filing and amended complaint and properly serving Alpha. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the nurse's motion to dismiss: "Consistent with Norway's ratification of the Hague Convention, however, the plaintiff acted with reasonable diligence in serving Thomas through Norway's designated central authority." View "Kim v. Lakeside Adult Family Home" on Justia Law
Pruczinski v. Ashby
This case arose out of the alleged tortious conduct of an Idaho state trooper against an Idaho citizen during a traffic stop in which pursuit began in Idaho, but ended in Washington. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under these facts, a trial court could exercise subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction under the Washington long-arm statute, RCW 4.28.185. Based on the facts of this case, the Court held that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction, but that personal jurisdiction was in either Idaho or Washington. The Court remanded this case back to the trial court to consider whether to dismiss this case on comity grounds. View "Pruczinski v. Ashby" on Justia Law
Clark County v. McManus
In a workers' compensation appeal, the trial court denied the worker-employee's proposed instruction, which would inform the jury that it must give special consideration to the (opinion) testimony of his attending physician. The trial court ruled against the worker. The Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial on an unrelated basis (holding that the trial court reversibly erred when it refused the worker's request to revise the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals' (Board) erroneous finding regarding the location of his injury). However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court correctly rejected the instruction. The Supreme Court granted review on the issue of whether it was error to refuse to give the special consideration instruction. The Court held the instruction should have been given. View "Clark County v. McManus" on Justia Law
Wuthrich v. King County
In 2008, petitioner Guy Wuthrich was riding a motorcycle on Avondale Road Northeast in King County, approaching an intersection with Northeast 159th Street. Drivers on 159th Street are controlled by a stop sign at the intersection; drivers on A von dale Road were not. Defendant Christa Gilland was driving a car on 159th Street. When she reached the intersection with Avondale Road, she stopped to wait for passing traffic but did not see Wuthrich approaching from the left. She turned left onto Avondale Road and collided with Wuthrich's motorcycle, seriously injuring him. Wuthrich filed a complaint against both Gilland and the County, alleging that the County was liable for his injuries because overgrown blackberry bushes obstructed Gilland's view of traffic at the intersection. The trial court dismissed the action against the County on summary judgment. The Supreme Court found genuine issues of material fact as to whether the County had a duty to keep the roadway at issue here in a reasonable safe condition. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Wuthrich v. King County" on Justia Law
Woodward v. Taylor
Two Washington residents got into a single-car accident that occurred in Idaho. The issue as presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether Washington or Idaho law applied: plaintiff filed this suit in Washington more than two years after the accident. If Idaho law applied, the plaintiff's claim was time barred by Idaho's two-year statute of limitations; if Washington law applied, the plaintiff's claim was permitted under Washington's three-year statute of limitations. After review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that Washington's law, including its statute of limitations, applied here. View "Woodward v. Taylor" on Justia Law
Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co.
In 2012, plaintiff Heidi Kroeber was shot outside the Bad Monkey Bar in Kent, Washington by Matthew Atkinson, who was driving an uninsured truck belonging to a friend at the time he opened fire. Plaintiff and her boyfriend had antagonized Atkinson earlier that evening. After pleading guilty to the crime of "Drive-By Shooting," Atkinson claimed that he had not intended to injure anyone and later claimed that he did not know that he was shooting where people were standing. There were factual disputes concerning whether Atkinson's truck was stopped or in motion at the time that he opened fire, and whether he accelerated rapidly away from the scene after the shooting. Plaintiff filed a claim with defendant, GEICO Insurance Company, to recover damages under the UIM coverage provision of her own automobile insurance policy. Under the relevant parts of this policy, GEICO was liable for "damages an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle due to: 1. bodily injury sustained by that insured and caused by an accident; and 2. the liability of the owner or operator for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured motor vehicle." GEICO denied plaintiffs claim, asserting that her injuries did not arise out of the use of Atkinson's truck. Plaintiff sued GEICO, claiming that she was entitled to UIM coverage. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and that court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court: (1) whether an injury to an insured pedestrian "arose out of" the intentional firing of a gun from an uninsured pickup truck; and (2) whether it is material if the shooter intended to harm anyone when firing the gun. The Washington Supreme Court answered the first question by holding that an injury "arises out of' vehicle use so long as some causal connection is present between a condition of, an attachment to, or some aspect of a vehicle and the resulting injury. "The converse is also true-·-an injury does not 'arise out of' vehicle use under circumstances where no such causal connection exists, making the vehicle the mere situs of the accident." The Court answered the second question in the negative. View "Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co." on Justia Law