Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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The sole issue in this case was whether advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) were per se disqualified from testifying on proximate cause in a medical negligence case. The Washington Supreme Court held that ARNPs may be qualified to testify regarding causation in a medical malpractice case if the trial court determines that the ARNP meets the threshold requirements of ER 702. The ability to independently diagnose and prescribe treatment for a particular malady was strong evidence that the expert might be qualified to discuss the cause of that same malady. The Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC" 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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Allan Tabingo was seriously injured while working aboard a fishing trawler owned and operated by American Seafoods Company LLC and American Triumph LLC (collectively American Seafoods). Tabingo alleged the lever used to operate a hatch on the trawler's deck broke when an operator tried to stop the hatch from closing. The hatch closed on Tabingo' s hand, leading to the amputation of two fingers. He brought numerous claims against American Seafoods, including a general maritime unseaworthiness claim for which he requested punitive damages. American Seafoods argued that as a matter of law, punitive damages were unavailable for unseaworthiness claims. The issue of whether punitive damages were available for a claim of unseaworthiness was a question of first impression for both the United States and Washington State Supreme Courts. The United States Supreme Court recently held that punitive damages were available for maintenance and cure, another general maritime claim. The Court held that because both the claim and the damages were historically available at common law and because Congress had shown no intent to limit recovery of punitive damages, those damages were available. Here, the Washington Court followed the United States Supreme Court's rationale and found that, like maintenance and cure, punitive damages were available for a general maritime unseaworthiness claim. The Washington Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Tabingo v. Am. Triumph LLC" on Justia Law

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One evening, plaintiff Deborah Peralta was drinking beer with a neighbor in a downtown Vancouver tavern. After an argument at the party, Peralta left on foot, became lost, and called her brother Jorge Peralta. She told him she had been drinking and asked for a ride home. After several unsuccessful efforts to meet her brother, Peralta mistook an approaching car for her brother's car. She stepped in front of the car, which was driven by a Washington State Patrol Sergeant who did not see Peralta in time to stop. The trooper struck her with his vehicle. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was the trial court's ruling that plaintiff’s admission during pretrial discovery should have been given conclusive effect. Plaintiff admitted without qualification to being "under the influence of intoxicating liquors" at the time she was struck and injured. The Supreme Court held that her admission in this context was unambiguous and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ruled she was bound by her admission. The jury instruction incorporating this ruling was also appropriate. As a result, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this point. The Supreme Court did not address the other evidentiary errors identified by the Court of Appeals, but instead remanded them for a determination of prejudice. View "Peralta v. Washington" on Justia Law

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Consolidated cases involved two city of Bellevue (City) firefighters who were diagnosed with malignant melanoma and filed claims for workers' compensation benefits. In both cases, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals (Board) denied the firefighters' claims. Both firefighters then appealed the Board's decision to King County Superior Court. Under the Industrial Insurance Act (IIA), Title 51 RCW, a worker injured in the course of employment who suffers from an "occupational disease" is entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The parties disagreed about various aspects of how and whether the presumption in RCW 51.32.185 should operate when a board decision was appealed to superior court. The Supreme Court noted that RCW 51.32.185 reflected a strong social policy in favor of the worker and concluded that: (1) whether the City rebutted the firefighter presumption was a factual determination that was properly given to the jury in Larson, but improperly decided as a matter of law in “Spivey;” (2) RCW 51.32.185 shifted both the burden of production and burden of persuasion to the employer; (3) in “Larson,” jury instruction 9 was proper; and ( 4) Larson was entitled to attorney fees at the Board level. The Court thus affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision in “Larson” and reversed in “Spivey.” View "Spivey v. City of Bellevue" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dean Wilcox fell 50 feet through an open catwalk hatch onto a concrete floor. Having sustained severe injuries, he sued the on-site safety planner, Steven Basehore, for negligent planning causing the fall; Wilcox also named the safety planner's employer, Bartlett Services, Inc., and an intermediary company, ELR Consulting, Inc. (ELR), in respondeat superior. Before trial, the court granted ELR judgment as a matter of law. At trial, the court instructed the jury on the borrowed servant doctrine, an extension of respondeat superior. Wilcox appealed both decisions. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review, the Supreme Court also affirmed: the borrowed servant doctrine was a question for the jury, where complete control was a disputed fact. Whether the servant is loaned through an intermediary does not preclude application of the doctrine. “We decline to consider the implications of Wilcox's indemnification argument because it was raised as a jury instruction challenge for the first time on appeal.” The Court found that judgment as a matter of law was properly granted in favor of ELR because no reasonable jury could find that ELR had a right to control Basehore's conduct. View "Wilcox v. Basehore" on Justia Law

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This case involved a medical malpractice action for a lost chance of a better outcome. The parties jointly sought direct discretionary review under RAP 2.3(b)(4), challenging two pretrial rulings: (1) whether a court should use a "but for" or "substantial factor" standard of causation in loss of chance cases; and (2) whether evidence relating to a contributory negligence defense should be excluded based on the plaintiffs failure to follow his doctor's instructions. The trial court decided that the but for standard applies and the contributory negligence defense was not appropriate in this case. "Traditional tort causation principles guide a loss of chance case." Applying those established principles, under the circumstances here, the Supreme Court concluded a but for cause analysis was appropriate, and affirmed the trial court's ruling on that issue. The Court reverse the trial court's partial summary judgment dismissing the contributory negligence defense. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Dunnington v. Virginia Mason Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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Gerald Cook and Francisco Entila were both employees of the Boeing Company. Early in the morning on February 18, 2010, Cook finished work and walked to his vehicle in an employee parking lot. He was driving his personal vehicle out of the lot and onto a Boeing access road. The access road is located on Boeing's property, and it is maintained by Boeing. As Entila walked across the access road, Cook struck and injured him. Entila received workers' compensation benefits for his injuries and filed suit against Cook for negligence. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the scope of the immunity provisions of the Industrial Insurance Act (IIA) as applied to a third party tort action against another employee when the accident occurred after working hours, but where the injured plaintiff qualified for benefits under the act. The trial court dismissed the suit on summary judgment, holding the act applied to bar suit. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that immunity did not apply because the alleged co-employee tortfeasor was not acting in the scope and course of employment. The court also reversed the court's consideration of an injured plaintiff's receipt of IIA benefits in determining immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Entila v. Cook" on Justia Law

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Jan DeMeerleer murdered Rebecca Schiering and her nine year old son Philip, and attempted to murder Schiering's older son, Brian Winkler. After the attack, DeMeerleer committed suicide. DeMeerleer had been an outpatient of psychiatrist Dr. Howard Ashby for nine years leading up to the attack, during which time he expressed suicidal and homicidal ideations but never named Schiering or her children as potential victims. At issue in this case was whether Ashby, as a mental health professional, owed DeMeerleer's victims a duty of care based on his relationship with DeMeerleer. After review, the Supreme Court held that Ashby and DeMeerleer shared a special relationship and that special relationship required Ashby to act with reasonable care, consistent with the standards of the mental health profession, to protect the foreseeable victims of DeMeerleer. Ashby conceded the existence of a special relationship between him and DeMeerleer; the foreseeability of DeMeerleer's victims was a question of fact appropriately resolved by the fact finder. The Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals in part and reversed the trial court's summary judgment dismissal of the medical negligence claim. View "Volk v. DeMeerleer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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Jamie Fast sought medical care because of difficulty conceiving and menstrual bleeding, which had been heavier and more prolonged than normal. Upon first consulting with Dr. Adam Smith, she noted on her medical history forms that her grandmother had diabetes and her parents had high cholesterol. In late March 2008, Dr. Smith confirmed Jamie was pregnant. Jamie bled for the first few months of pregnancy-visiting the emergency room at least once for bleeding. Jamie phoned Dr. Smith's office multiple times to inquire about her bleeding. Each time, Jamie went to Dr. Smith for an examination or she had an ultrasound at the hospital. After each checkup or ultrasound, Dr. Smith assured Jamie that everything was fine or normal. Neither Dr. Smith nor his nursing staff ever raised concerns about blood sugar, diabetes, high blood pressure, or weight loss during Jamie's pregnancy. At an August 2008 appointment, Dr. Gregory Schroff covered for Dr. Smith. Dr. Schroff discovered Jamie's blood glucose concentration was over six times the upper limit of normal. A second test confirmed the high result was not a fluke. Dr. Schroff admitted Jamie to the hospital for management of diabetes and pregnancy that same day. At the hospital, Dr. Schroff ordered intermittent fetal monitoring. The monitor detected fetal distress several times, indicating decelerations of the fetal heart rate. The nursing staff's response was to turn off the monitor, rather than to substitute a different monitor or to expedite delivery of the unborn child. Dr. Schroff failed to review fetal monitor strips. Nurses were unable to detect a fetal heartbeat; Jamie delivered a stillborn baby. She was diagnosed as an insulin-dependent type 2 diabetic since the stillbirth. The medical negligence statute of limitations (MNSOL) required filing a claim for medical negligence within three years of the allegedly negligent act or omission or within one year of when the negligence was or should have been discovered, whichever is later. The MNSOL may be tolled for one year upon the making of a good-faith request for mediation. The general torts catchall statute of limitations was also three years, but with no associated tolling provision. statute of limitations. Dr. Smith, joined by the other defendants, moved for summary judgment, because the Fasts’ wrongful death claim was barred by the general torts catchall statute of limitations and violation of a tort claim statute. The trial court granted summary judgment on both grounds. The Fasts appealed. After review, the Supreme Court held that in cases of wrongful death resulting from negligent health care, the MNSOL (RCW 4.16.350(3)) applied. View "Fast v. Kennewick Pub. Hosp. Dist." on Justia Law