Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Street v. Weyerhaeuser Co.
Weyerhaeuser Company challenged an award of industrial insurance benefits to its former employee, Roger Street, for his low back condition, a claimed occupational disease. Weyerhaeuser argued that a worker must present expert medical testimony that the disease "arises naturally" out of employment. The Court of Appeals rejected Weyerhaeuser's argument, holding that the controlling case law required Street to present expert medical testimony to show that his back condition "arose naturally" from employment. Because there was medical testimony supporting the "arises proximately" requirement and lay testimony supporting the "arises naturally" requirement, the appeals court held that Street proved his low back condition was an occupational disease and affirmed the jury award of benefits. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Appeals’ decision, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed. View "Street v. Weyerhaeuser Co." on Justia Law
Swank v. Valley Christian School
The issue presented by this case was whether Washington's Zackery Lystedt Law (Lystedt law), RCW 28A.600.190, gave rise to an implied cause of action. The Lystedt law's purpose was to reduce the risk of further injury or death to youth athletes who suffered concussions in the state of Washington. Andrew Swank (Drew) died from complications after contact with another player during a high school football game. Drew reported having neck pain and headaches. Drew would play again, but the quality of his play "sharply declined." During the game, Coach Jim Puryear called Drew over to the sidelines, where he grabbed Drew's face mask and, according to Drew's father, "began to jerk it up and down hard while he screamed at [Drew], 'What are you doing out there, what are you doing out there?"' Drew returned to the game, where he was hit by an opposing player. He suffered head injuries and staggered to the sideline, where he collapsed. Drew died two days later. Drew's parents sued Drew's school, the football coach, and Drew's doctor on behalf of his estate and individually. The trial court granted summary judgment against the Swanks on all claims, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court held that an implied cause of action does arise from the Lystedt law. As a result, the Swanks' claims that Valley Christian School (VCS) and Coach Puryear violated the Lystedt law could proceed. The Court also held that the evidence against the coach was sufficient to permit a jury to find liability against the coach, despite the limited volunteer immunity protecting him. Consequently, the Court reinstated the Swanks' common law negligence claims against the coach. Finally, the Court held the trial court lacked personal jurisdiction over Drew's doctor. View "Swank v. Valley Christian School" on Justia Law
Smelser v. Paul
Two-year-old Derrick Smelser was run over while playing in his yard by a car driven by the defendant, Jeanne Paul. At trial, Paul was allowed to assert an affirmative defense that the child's father was partially at fault based on negligent supervision of the child. Instructed under RCW 4.22.070, the jury determined the father was 50 percent at fault. However, the trial court refused to enter judgment against the father based on the parental immunity doctrine. The result was that the child's recovery against the driver was reduced by 50 percent. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding that under chapter 4.22 RCW and Washington case law, no tort or fault exists based on the claim of negligent supervision by a parent. View "Smelser v. Paul" on Justia Law
Frausto v. Yakima HMA, LLC
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
Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co.
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
Tabingo v. Am. Triumph LLC
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
Peralta v. Washington
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
Spivey v. City of Bellevue
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
Wilcox v. Basehore
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
Dunnington v. Virginia Mason Med. Ctr.
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