Washington Statute Change: Washington Duck Boat Crash Leads to Wrongful Death Statute Change From the desk of Tom McCurdy:
In 2015, a duck boat amphibious vehicle veered across several lanes of traffic in Seattle, crashing into a bus carrying foreign students, killing five. The families of some of those foreign students that were killed sought, but were unable, to file wrongful death claims against the duck boat operator. Elsewhere, parents of unmarried, adult children have been precluded from bringing wrongful death lawsuits. What precluded these parents from bringing wrongful death claims? Would those families still be precluded from bringing those claims today? Read on to find out.
Since 1909, Washington’s wrongful death statute has had, among others, two threshold requirements for parents to be able to bring a wrongful death claim. First, parents of deceased children who wanted to bring a wrongful death lawsuit were required to be residents of the United States. Second, if the child was an adult, the parent was required to be economically dependent on the child. Both of these requirements have served to preclude parents from bringing wrongful death claims in Washington.
After several high profile, high exposure deaths—such as the duck boat accident—the legislature began the process of amending the statute. Their answer, Senate Bill 5163, was introduced on January 15, 2019. After being passed by both the House and the Senate, the bill was delivered to Washington’s Governor, who signed the bill on April 26, 2019. The law expands the ability of parents to file wrongful death lawsuits after their child dies.
First, SB 5163 does away with the residency requirement. Now, if a non-resident parent has a child who perishes in Washington, they are entitled to bring a wrongful death statute when they would have been prevented from doing so before. Second, SB 5163 expands the ability of parents of adult children to file wrongful death claims. Instead of requiring a parent to be economically dependent on their adult children, they now need only to have “significant involvement” in their adult child’s life. The bill defines significant involvement as “demonstrated support of an emotional, psychological, or financial nature within the parent-child relationship…”
Further, SB 5163 is “remedial and retroactive.” It applies to “all claims that are not time barred” in addition to “any claims pending in any court” on the date the bill is made law.
This is a critical change in Washington for those who handle death claims. We will be closely watching developments surrounding wrongful death claims in the next several months.
View full opinion at: https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5163&Chamber=Senate&Year=2019
To email Tom McCurdy, please click here.
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