Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Henderson v. Thompson
Janelle Henderson, a Black woman, and Alicia Thompson, a white woman, were involved in a motor vehicle collision. Thompson admitted fault for the collision but made no offer to compensate Henderson for her injuries. Henderson claimed that her preexisting condition was seriously exacerbated by the collision and sued for damages. During the trial, Thompson’s defense team attacked the credibility of Henderson and her counsel—also a Black woman—in language that called on racist tropes and suggested impropriety between Henderson and her Black witnesses. The jury returned a verdict of only $9,200 for Henderson. Henderson moved for a new trial or additur on the ground that the repeated appeals to racial bias affected the verdict, yet the trial court did not even grant an evidentiary hearing on that motion. The court instead stated it could not “require attorneys to refrain from using language that is tied to the evidence in the case, even if in some contexts the language has racial overtones.” The Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion by failing to grant an evidentiary hearing and also by failing to impose any sanctions for Thompson’s discovery violations. Judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Henderson v. Thompson" on Justia Law
Schwartz v. King County
Carl Schwartz filed suit against King County, Washington (County) for the catastrophic injuries he suffered when he collided with a bollard the County installed on the Green River Trail. The County moved for summary judgment dismissal, arguing that Washington’s recreational use immunity statute, RCW 4.24.210, precluded liability and that the statute’s exception for known dangerous artificial latent conditions did not apply. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment for the County. The Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed summary judgment. The Washington Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals, finding Schwartz presented evidence showing a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the bollard was a known dangerous artificial latent condition, so the trial court erred by granting summary judgment for the County. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Schwartz v. King County" on Justia Law
Pacheco v. United States
Plaintiff Yesenia Pacheco sought contraception from Neighborcare Health, a federally funded community health center, “to prevent the birth of an unwanted child.” The method Pacheco and her care providers selected was Depo-Provera, “a highly effective” injectable contraceptive medication that “must be administered on a timely basis every eleven to thirteen weeks.” Pacheco received regular Depo-Provera injections from December 2009 until July 2011. On September 30, 2011 for her next scheduled appointment, a medical assistant “mistakenly injected [Pacheco] with a flu vaccine instead.” The medical assistant “failed to confirm why Ms. Pacheco was there, to document consent to the flu vaccine or a change in the orders, or to advise Ms. Pacheco of the side effects of a flu shot and/or the consequences of skipping a Depo-Provera injection.” Neighborcare did not inform Pacheco of its mistake until December 2011, when she sought an appointment for her next Depo-Provera injection. At that time, Neighborcare asked Pacheco to come to the clinic for a pregnancy test, which was positive. Plaintiff S.L.P. was born to Pacheco and plaintiff Luis Lemus, diagnosed with perisylvian polymicrogyria (PMG), a congenital defect resulting in permanent disabilities. In March 2017, Pacheco, Lemus, and S.L.P. filed an amended complaint against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) at the federal district court for the Western District of Washington, seeking damages relating to Pacheco’s pregnancy and S.L.P.’s PMG. The federal district court certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court, asking whether a patient who received negligent reproductive health care could recover all damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence, regardless of the patient’s reason for seeking care. To this, the Supreme Court answered yes: if any Washington health care provider breaches their duty “to follow the accepted standard of care,” then damages proximately caused by the provider’s negligence may be recovered upon the necessary factual findings. Where negligent contraceptive care results in the birth of a child, and that child has a congenital defect, the provider may be liable for damages relating to the child’s condition. Such liability does not require proof that the child was at a known, heightened risk for developing congenital defects or that the patient sought contraception for the specific purpose of preventing the birth of a child with congenital defects. View "Pacheco v. United States" on Justia Law
Desmet v. Washington
In February 2016, three-month-old A.K., daughter of respondents Michelle Desmet and Sandro Kasco, was taken into protective custody after she suffered a spiral fracture to her left femur. When the parents could not explain the injury, A.K. was placed with her paternal aunt for six months while the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) initiated an investigation. By August, A.K. was returned to her parents and a dependency action was dismissed. In August 2018, the parents sued the DSHS (the State) for negligent investigation, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and invasion of privacy by false light (false light) based on the Department’s allegedly harmful investigation and issuance of a letter indicating that allegations of child abuse/neglect against Desmet were founded (the founded letter). The Department moved for summary judgment, arguing it was immune from suit under RCW 4.24.595(2) because its actions in A.K.’s dependency proceedings were taken pursuant to the juvenile court’s order to place A.K. with her aunt. The trial court denied summary judgment and entered a final order finding that no immunity applied. The Department appealed on the immunity issue, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Department claimed on appeal to the Washington Supreme Court that the Court of Appeals’ decision rendered RCW 4.24.595(2) meaningless and that the court erroneously refused to consider the legislative history of RCW 4.24.595(2), which, in the Department’s view, was enacted to bar claims like those brought by the parents. The Supreme Court found the unambiguous text of RCW 4.24.595(2) did not grant the Department immunity for all actions in an investigation of child abuse/neglect that might coincide with a court order in related dependency proceedings. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Desmet v. Washington" on Justia Law
Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys.
This case addressed the difference between two claims that arose from the same accident and that were based on the same medical care: a medical malpractice claim and a failure to secure informed consent claim. In 2017, Mari Davies was in a single-car rollover accident. When Davies arrived at the E.R. she had hypertension, high blood pressure, left shoulder pain, neck pain, chest pain, abdominal pain, a headache, and some tingling in her left arm. She also had preexisting kidney stones, diverticulosis, pneumonia, and diabetes. Dr. Michael Hirsig evaluated her as soon as she arrived in the E.R.: consulted with a neurosurgeon, ordered tests and prescribed medicines. Dr. Hirsig diagnosed Davies with a stable cervical spine fracture. He determined that she had no “neurological symptoms.” Davies visited her primary care provider the next day. While in his office, Davies exhibited stroke symptoms. She was immediately transported to the E.R. at Providence St. Peter Hospital. She had, indeed, suffered a stroke. It was later determined Davies’ stroke was caused by a vertebral artery dissection (VAD) that occurred at the time of the accident. A VAD is typically detected by a computed tomography angiography (CTA) scan. It was undisputed that the E.R. doctor who treated Davies when she first presented to the hospital, did not order a CTA scan. Davies filed suit against MultiCare Health System, the parent corporation of Good Samaritan Hospital, alleging (1) medical negligence, (2) failure to obtain informed consent, and (3) corporate negligence. On cross motions for partial summary judgment, the trial court dismissed Davies’ informed consent claim. The trial court found no material factual dispute related to the informed consent claim and dismissed it as unsupported by the law. Davies’ medical negligence claims proceeded to trial. The jury found that none of the health care provider defendants were negligent. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding facts in the record sufficient to support an informed consent claim. The Washington Supreme Court adhered to prior decisions holding that in general, a patient cannot bring an informed consent claim where, as here, the physician ruled out the undiagnosed condition entirely. View "Davies v. MultiCare Health Sys." on Justia Law
Kellogg v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp.
James Hamre died when an Amtrak train derailed in Dupont, Washington, in 2017. He was survived by his mother, who lived with him, and three adult siblings. Under the wrongful death statutes in effect at the time, James’ mother could recover for his wrongful death because she was dependent on him, while his siblings could recover nothing because they did not rely on James financially. The wrongful death beneficiary statute in effect at that time also denied any recovery to beneficiaries like parents or siblings if they did not reside in the United States. In 2018, one of James’ brothers, acting as his personal representative, agreed to a settlement and release with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (aka Amtrak), on behalf of their mother, the only then qualifying wrongful death beneficiary. In 2019, the Washington Legislature amended RCW 4.20.020 to remove the requirement that second tier beneficiaries (parents and siblings) be both dependent on the decedent and residents of the United States. It explicitly stated that the amendment should apply retroactively to claims that were not time barred. In 2020, James’ siblings who qualified as beneficiaries under the revised statute brought wrongful death actions against Amtrak. Amtrak argued that retroactive application would violate its contracts clause and due process rights under the Washington Constitution. The federal district court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court to address the issue of retroactivity, and the Supreme Court concluded the Washington State Legislature intended the 2019 amendments to RCW 4.20.020 to apply retroactively to permit newly qualified second tier beneficiaries to assert wrongful death claims that were not time barred. View "Kellogg v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp." on Justia Law
Turner v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs.
Kent Turner suffered from multiple sclerosis (MS), which caused loss of his motor skills. When his wife, Kathy Turner, could not, due to her own health issues, provide necessary in-home assistance, Kent moved into a nursing home and then into an apartment, where he died in a fire. Kent’s estate, through Kathy Turner, sued the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging (LMTAAA) (the area agency on aging) with case management responsibilities for Kent’s care, for negligence and for abuse or neglect. DSHS and LMTAAA moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The trial court ruled that no special relationship was formed and only an ordinary duty of care was owed. The trial court further held that no breach occurred and causation was lacking. After review, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment dismissal of the claims against DSHS and LMTAAA. View "Turner v. Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs." on Justia Law
Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co.
Doy Coogan died of peritoneal mesothelioma after years of asbestos exposure through his automotive repair work and excavation business. A jury unanimously found Genuine Parts Company (GPC) and National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA) liable for Coogan’s wrongful death and entered an $81.5 million verdict for his family and estate. GPC and NAPA moved for a new trial or alternatively a remittitur of damages, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in part and vacated the jury’s damages award. Though it rejected claims for a new trial premised on alleged misconduct by plaintiff’s counsel, it concluded that the trial court erred by excluding one of GPC and NAPA’s expert witnesses and that the jury’s award was excessive. Specifically, the Court of Appeals rejected the jury’s award of noneconomic damages in favor of its own “necessarily . . . subjective” determination that the amount of damages was “so excessive that it shock[ed] the court’s conscience.” The Washington Supreme Court granted review to address the appropriate standards for reviewing post-trial motions to set aside jury verdicts. "While appellate review serves an essential purpose in safeguarding the integrity of the jury process, it must remain limited." The Court concluded the Court of Appeals overstepped its limited role and inappropriately substituted its own judgment for that of the trial court and the jury. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the jury's verdict was reinstated in full. View "Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Liquor & Cannabis Bd.
On a rainy day in 2011, Darcy Johnson, a business invitee at a Washington State Liquor Control Board liquor store, slipped and fell in the entryway to that store, just after entering. A jury returned a verdict for Johnson. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the trial court should have granted the State’s motion for a judgment as a matter of law because Johnson had not satisfied the notice requirement in a premises liability action. The Washington Supreme Court granted review to resolve whether the reasonable foreseeability exception to the notice requirement applied. The Court held that the exception applied. The Court therefore reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals. View "Johnson v. Liquor & Cannabis Bd." on Justia Law
Fox v. City of Bellingham
The US District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of law to the Washington Supreme Court. The federal court asked the Supreme Court who had standing to bring an action for tortious interference with a deceased body. Plaintiff Robert Fox alleged he experienced severe emotional distress when he learned the City of Bellingham Fire Department placed medical tubes inside his deceased brother as part of a training exercise without receiving consent from the family. The City moved to dismiss Fox's claim, asserting that Fox, as brother of the deceased, who was not the custodian of his brother's remains under RCW 68.50.160, was an improper party to file suit. Whether someone such as Mr. Fox had standing to bring such a suit was an issue of first impression for the Washington Supreme Court. After review, the Court held that standing for this action was meant to compensate those who suffered from the emotional distress arising from the mistreatment of their loved ones' remains. The Court thus held that Fox had standing to bring an action for interference with his brother's body. View "Fox v. City of Bellingham" on Justia Law
Posted in: Personal Injury