Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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
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Gabriel Anderson, a student of the Ferndale School District (Ferndale), was killed by a vehicle while on an off campus walk with his physical education (PE) class. Anderson’s estate alleged negligence by Ferndale. The trial court dismissed the claim, granting Ferndale summary judgment based on a lack of duty. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that there were sufficient factual issues on duty and proximate causation. Ferndale challenged the Court of Appeals’ analysis of proximate cause. The issue presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether Ferndale was entitled to summary judgment dismissal based on proximate causation. While the Court of Appeals erred in analyzing legal causation, the Supreme Court found it properly concluded that material issues of fact existed concerning proximate causation. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse summary judgment dismissal of the negligence claim against Ferndale. View "Meyers v. Ferndale Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the general-specific rule applied to a second degree manslaughter charge stemming from a workplace death. The State initially charged Phillip Numrich under the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act of 1973 (WISHA), RCW 49.17.190(3), the specific statute that punished employer conduct resulting in employee death. The State also charged the employer with second degree manslaughter. The trial court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge based on the general-specific rule, and the employer sought and was granted direct review. Specifically, the issue before the Washington Supreme Court was whether the trial court properly denied Numrich’s motion to dismiss a second degree manslaughter charge when one of his employees was killed at the construction site. While consideration of the employer’s motion for direct discretionary review was pending, the State moved to amend the information to add an alternative charge of first degree manslaughter. The trial court granted the motion to amend but sua sponte imposed sanctions against the State based on the timing of the amendment. The employer sought review of the order granting the amendment and the State sought review of the order imposing sanctions. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not err in denying the employer’s motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge under the general–specific rule. Furthermore, the Court held the trial court did not err in granting the State’s motion to amend the information to add an alternative first degree manslaughter charge. Finally, the Court held the trial court did not err in imposing sanctions on the State under the circumstances of this case. View "Washington v. Numrich" on Justia Law

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Executing a search warrant, in 2011, eight Tacoma police officers broke open an apartment door with a battering ram. They expected for find Matthew Longstrom, a drug dealer. Instead, they awakened Petitioner Kathleen Mancini, a nurse who had been sleeping after working the night shift. Police nevertheless handcuffed Mancini and took her, without shoes and wearing only a nightgown, outside while they searched. Mancini sued these police for negligence in the performance of their duties. A jury found the police breached a duty of reasonable care they owed to Mancini when executing the search warrant. The Washington Supreme Court found substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals that held to the contrary (granting the officers sovereign immunity) and reinstated the jury’s verdict. View "Mancini v. City Of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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Todd McLaughlin was riding his bicycle on a Seattle street when the door of a parked vehicle opened right into him. McLaughlin fell, suffered injuries, and sought insurance coverage for various losses, including his medical expenses. McLaughlin’s insurance policy covered those expenses if McLaughlin was a “pedestrian” at the time of the accident. McLaughlin argued a bicyclist was a pedestrian, relying on the definition of “pedestrian” found in the Washington laws governing casualty insurance. The trial court held a bicyclist was not a pedestrian, reasoning that the plain meaning of "pedestrian" excluded bicyclists. The Court of Appeals affirmed, relying largely on its view that the Washington statute defined pedestrian for purposes of casualty insurance, excluded bicyclists. The Washington Supreme Court reversed. The Washington legislature defined “pedestrian” for purposes of casualty insurance in Washington broadly in RCW 48.22.005(11). The Supreme Court found that definition included bicyclists and applied to the insurance contract at issue here. "Even if we were to hold otherwise, at the very least, the undefined term 'pedestrian' in the insurance contract at issue must be considered ambiguous in light of the various definitions of 'pedestrian' discussed in this opinion. Being ambiguous, we must construe the insurance term favorably to the insured. Accordingly, we reverse the Court of Appeals and remand for further proceedings." View "McLaughlin v. Travelers Commercial Ins. Co." on Justia Law