Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court concerning premises liability. Shannon Adamson, an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), fell approximately 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham's (Port) Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) collapsed. The accident caused severe, life-changing injuries. The State of Alaska leased the BCT from the Port, allowing ferries to dock at the BCT and load and unload passengers and their vehicles. The Port elected to not implement an interlock device; when Adamson was operating the passenger ramp, slack was created in some attached cables. When she removed the locking pins, the ramp collapsed, snapped the cables, and Adamson and the ramp fell approximately 15 feet until the ramp caught on the ferry. Adamson and her husband sued the Port in federal court, alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. The federal court determined Adamson was the Port's business invitee; the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamson and awarded over $16 million in damages. The court found the Port under three separate theories of liability: duty to a business invitee, duty as a landlord, and a promise to perform repairs under the lease contract. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a property owner-landlord was liable for injuries that occur on its property when the lessee has exclusive possession at the time of the accident but only priority use under the lease and the landlord has contracted to maintain and repair the premises. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and consequently, did not address the second question. View "Adamson v. Port of Bellingham" on Justia Law

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L.M. suffered a severe injury during birth and subsequently sued Laura Hamilton, the midwife who delivered him, for negligence. Hamilton prevailed at trial. On appeal, L.M. argued the trial court erred by admitting evidence that natural forces of labor could have caused the injury and testimony from a biomechanical engineer to the same effect. L.M. argued the trial court should have excluded the evidence under Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (1923), and the testimony under ER 702. The Washington Supreme Court found that under Frye, the trial court had to exclude evidence that was not based on generally accepted science. And under ER 702, the trial court had to exclude testimony from unqualified experts and testimony that was unhelpful to the jury. L.M.'s challenge concerned the extent to which the challenged science had to be "generally accepted." And his ER 702 challenge hinged on the amount of discretion an appellate court granted a trial court under the rule. Finding the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial and appellate courts. View "L.M. v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Thomas Clark, M.D., the Pierce County, Washington medical examiner, attempted to subpoena a video held by BNSF Railway Company of a fatal train-pedestrian collision. The parties disputed whether Dr. Clark properly began a coroner's inquest, and the extent of the subpoena power granted by the applicable statute. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether Dr. Clark exceeded his authority in issuing the subpoena. The Court held that because Dr. Clark never began an inquest, he lacked the authority to subpoena. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court's issuance of a writ of prohibition. View "BNSF Ry. Co. v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Scottye Miller murdered his longtime girlfriend, Tricia Patricelli, 15 days after he was released from prison on Department of Corrections (DOC)-supervised probation. Patricelli, Patricelli's family and friends, and DOC—knew that Miller had physically abused Patricelli in the past and would likely do so again if they resumed their relationship. Patricelli hid the renewed relationship from her friends, family members, and DOC. In fact, Patricelli explicitly assured DOC that she was not in a relationship with Miller, that she was moving to a place where he could not find her, and that she would call the police if she saw him. Miller's mother also verified in writing that he was sleeping at her home, though it turns out that he was actually living with Patricelli. The question this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether DOC was liable for Patricelli's death, despite Patricelli's, Miller's, and his mother's active and successful efforts to prevent DOC from knowing that Miller was in contact with Patricelli. The parties agree that DOC had a duty to supervise Miller while he was on probation and that DOC was not liable unless its supervision constituted “gross negligence.” The parties disagreed on whether DOC’s actions rose to the level of gross negligence. The trial court dismissed on summary judgment, finding the DOC’s failure to take additional steps to verify Patricelli’s statement’s or Miller’s housing arrangements could qualify as gross negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment for DOC. Tricia Patricelli’s Estate failed to produce sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact on the question of gross negligence. View "Harper v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court was presented an issue of first impression: whether Washington should adopt the "apparent manufacturer" doctrine for common law product liability claims predating the 1981 product liability and tort reform act (WPLA). By this opinion, the Court joined the clear majority of states that formally adopted the apparent manufacturer doctrine. Applying that doctrine to the particular facts of this case, the Court held genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether a reasonable consumer could have believed Pfizer was a manufacturer of asbestos products that caused Vernon Rublee's illness and death. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Rublee v. Carrier Corp." on Justia Law

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Heidi Hendrickson filed suit against the Moses Lake School District to recover for injuries she suffered while operating a table saw in a woodshop class at Moses Lake High School. The jury found the District was negligent, but that its negligence was not a proximate cause of Hendrickson's injuries. Hendrickson appealed, arguing the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the District owed a her a duty of ordinary care instead of a heightened duty. The Court of Appeals agreed with Hendrickson and reversed, remanding for a new trial. The Washington Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court, however, finding school districts were subject to an ordinary duty of care. As a result, the Supreme Court reinstated the jury's verdict. View "Hendrickson v. Moses Lake Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Former foster children brought a case against the Department of Social and Health Service (DSHS) alleging negligence in failing to protect them from the tortious or criminal acts of their foster (and later, adoptive) parents. At the close of evidence, the trial court granted the Department's CR 50 motion and dismissed the children's claims of negligence concerning the preadoption-foster care period. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding DSHS owed them a common law duty to protect dependent foster children from foreseeable harm based on the special relationship between DSHS and such children. The Washington Supreme Court agreed with this reasoning, and remanded for trial on the children's preadoption claims. View "H.B.H. v. Washington" on Justia Law

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The central issue in this case was whether the administrative exhaustion rule found in the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) applies to all tort claims that arise during the land use decision-making process. In late 2009, Maytown purchased real property in Thurston County, Washington from the Port of Tacoma (Port) for the express purpose of operating a mine. The property came with an approved 20-year special use permit (permit) from Thurston County (County) for mining gravel. Maytown and the Port claimed the County's board of commissioners (Board) succumbed to political pressure from opponents to the mine and directed the County's Resource Stewardship Department to impose unnecessary procedural hurdles meant to obstruct and stall the mining operation. Because the property had been designated by the County as "mineral land of long term commercial significance," the County was obligated to balance the protection of the mineral land with the protection of critical areas. Other issues raised by this case centered on whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's finding of a substantive due process violation 42 U.S.C. 1983; whether an aggrieved party can recover prelitigation, administrative fora attorney fees intentionally caused by the tortfeasor under a tortious interference claim; and, whether the Court of Appeals erred in awarding a request under RAP 18.1(b) for appellate attorney fees that was not made in a separate section devoted solely to that request. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals on all but the third issue raised: the tortious interference claims pled in this case did not authorize recovery of prelitigation, administrative fora attorney fees. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed in part, and reversed in part. View "Maytown Sand & Gravel, LLC v. Thurston County" on Justia Law

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Sheila Rosenberg was invited to the home of Igor Lukashevich, her high school basketball coach. Lukashevich drank shots of vodka with Rosenberg, then shortly after leaving Lukashevich's home, Rosenberg was killed along with her boyfriend in a car accident. Michele Anderson, Rosenberg's mother sued Lukashevich's employer Soap Lake School District, but the trial court determined she failed to present sufficient evidence to support her claims. Therefore, the Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment to the school district. View "Anderson v. Soap Lake Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Respondent-petitioner Brandon Afoa was severely injured in an accident while working at the Port of Seattle for a cargo company. He sued the Port on a theory that the Port retained sufficient control over his work to have a duty to provide him a safe place to work. The Port argued in its defense that several airlines that were not parties to the lawsuit were at fault. A jury found Afoa suffered $40 million in damages and apportioned fault between him, the Port and the airlines. Notwithstanding Washington tort law in which tortfeasors are usually liable only for their proportionate share of the damages they cause, Aofa argued the Port was liable for both its portion and the airlines' portion. The Washington Supreme Court held RCW 4.22.070(1)(a) preserved joint and several liability when a defendant is vicariously liable for another's fault, but the jury's findings did not support the conclusion that the Port was vicariously liable for the airlines' fault. View "Afoa v. Port of Seattle" on Justia Law