Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review related to the boundaries of the corporate attorney-client privilege and how it operated when in conflict with a plaintiff’s physician-patient privilege. In 2015, Doug Hermanson sideswiped an unoccupied vehicle and crashed into a utility pole. Hermanson was transported to Tacoma General Hospital, which was owned by MultiCare Health System Inc. Hermanson was treated by several MultiCare employees, including two nurses and a crisis intervention social worker. However, the physician who treated Hermanson, Dr. Patterson, was an independent contractor of MultiCare pursuant to a signed agreement between MultiCare and Trauma Trust, his employer. Trauma Trust was created by MultiCare; Dr. Patterson had his own office at Tacoma General Hospital and was expected to abide by MultiCare’s policies and procedures. During Hermanson’s treatment, an unidentified person at Tacoma General Hospital conducted a blood test on Hermanson that showed a high blood alcohol level. As a result, someone reported this information to the police, and the police charged Hermanson with first degree negligent driving and hit and run of an unattended vehicle. Based on this disclosure of his blood alcohol results, Hermanson sued MultiCare and multiple unidentified parties for negligence, defamation/false light, false imprisonment, violation of Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege, and unauthorized disclosure of Hermanson's confidential health information. MultiCare retained counsel to jointly represent MultiCare, Dr. Patterson, and Trauma Trust, reasoning that while Dr. Patterson and Trauma Trust were not identified parties, Hermanson’s initial demand letter implicated both parties. Hermanson objected to this joint representation and argued that MultiCare’s ex parte communications with Dr. Patterson violated Hermanson’s physician-patient privilege. The Supreme Court determined that Dr. Patterson still maintained a principal-agent relationship with MultiCare, and served as the "functional equivalent" of a MultiCare employee; therefore MultiCare could have ex parte communications with the doctor. The nurse and social worker privilege were "essentially identical in purpose" to the physician-patient privilege, making ex parte communications permissible between MultiCare and the nurse and social worker. View "Hermanson v. Multicare Health Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

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Brian Ehrhart died within days of contracting hantavirus near his Issaquah, Washington home in early 2017. His widow, Sandra Ehrhart, sued King County’s public health department, Swedish Medical Center, and an emergency room physician, arguing all three had negligently caused Brian's death. King County asserted public duty as an affirmative defense, arguing it was not liable for Brian’s death because it did not owe him any duty as an individual. Ehrhart moved for partial summary judgment asking the court to dismiss this defense and others. The trial court granted Ehrhart’s motion but conditioned its ruling on the jury finding particular facts. King County appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court accepted direct discretionary review. The issues presented were: (1) whether the trial court could properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; and (2) whether the regulations governing King COunty's responsibility to issue health advisories created a duty owed to Brian individually as opposed to a non actionable duty owed to the public as a whole. The Supreme Court determined the trial court could not properly grant summary judgment conditioned on the jury finding particular facts; summary judgment was appropriate only when there were no genuine issues of material fact. The Court concluded King County did not owe an individualized duty to Brian, and no exception to the public duty doctrine applied in this case. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court, and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of King County on its public duty doctrine defense. View "Ehrhart v. King County" on Justia Law

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A wine bottle shattered in Rolfe Godfrey's hand while he was working as a bartender, injuring him. He filed a products liability suit against the winery, St. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd. and the bottle manufacturer, Saint-Gobain Containers, Inc. (collectively, Ste. Michelle). The case was assigned to Pierce County, Washington Superior Court Judge Garold Johnson, who set the initial case schedule, including discovery deadlines. The case was later reassigned to Judge Katherine Stolz, who, upon a stipulated and jointly proposed order, extended the parties' deadlines to disclose their witnesses. This case turned on the nature of that stipulated order. Two months later, and before Judge Stolz made any other rulings in the case, Godfrey filed an affidavit of prejudice and a motion for Judge Stolz's recusal under former RCW 4.12.040 and .050. Judge Stolz denied the motion, concluding that the earlier stipulated order to extend witness disclosure deadlines involved discretion and, thus, the affidavit of prejudice was not timely. Judge Stolz presided over the bench trial. Ste. Michelle prevailed, and Godfrey appealed. The Washington Supreme Court concluded that under Washington law, a party does not lose the right to remove a judge when the judge takes certain categories of actions, including arranging the calendar. The Court held that a stipulated order extending discovery deadlines that did not delay the trial or otherwise affect the court's schedule was an order arranging the calendar under the former RCW 4.12.050. Accordingly, the affidavit of prejudice was timely, and the case should have been reassigned to a different judge. View "Godfrey v. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Gildardo Vargas was working on a construction project when a concrete-carrying hose hit him in the head, and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. Vargas and his family sued the general contractor, the concrete supplier, and the concrete pumper for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the general contractor. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether the general contractor was directly liable for providing a safe workplace, and whether any breach proximately caused Vargas’ injury. View "Vargas v. Inland Washington, LLC" on Justia Law

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Michael Weaver, a former City of Everett firefighter, contracted melanoma. He filed a temporary disability claim, which the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (Department) denied, finding the melanoma was not work related. The melanoma spread to Weaver's brain, for which he filed a permanent disability claim. The Department denied it as precluded by the denial of the temporary disability claim. The issue his case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review centered on whether the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata properly precluded Weaver's permanent disability claim. The Court found collateral estoppel did not apply because the doctrine would work an injustice in this situation, given that Weaver did not have sufficient incentive to fully and vigorously litigate the temporary disability claim in light of the disparity of relief between the two claims. Likewise, the Court held that res judicata did not apply because the two claims did not share identical subject matter, given that the permanent disability claim did not exist at the time of the temporary disability claim. View "Weaver v. City of Everett" on Justia Law