By Nicole Jennings

By Nicole Jennings

Bill expanding wrongful death actions passes the Senate

The bill would do away with a law that opponents say is antiquated and xenophobic.

Senators on Saturday passed legislation that would make it possible for citizens of other countries and parents of adults to file wrongful death lawsuits in the state of Washington.

Under current Washington State law, if a family member wants to sue for the wrongful death of a loved one they must be a U.S. citizen and a dependent of the deceased.

SB 6015, sponsored by Senator Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, would remove that requirement. It passed on a 26-21 vote.

“The purpose is to correct a historic injustice,” Hasegawa said at the bill’s public hearing in January.

He said the bill was written in response to an antiquated law from 1917 that targeted Chinese immigrant laborers. The law required someone to be a U.S. citizen to seek a wrongful death case. This, he said, disproportionately affected Chinese women whose husbands died in unsafe working conditions.

“We are one of the very few states left that have this discriminatory, xenophobic, and antiquated law,” MingMing Tung-Edelman, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance said at the hearing.

In September 2015, a Ride the Ducks tour bus collided with a charter bus on the Aurora Bridge in Seattle. The families of five international students who died in the crash were unable to seek a wrongful death lawsuit because of the law.

“This is an important bill for our community,” Hasegawa said. “Many communities banded together because of that Ride the Ducks accident and were collectively trying to correct that injustice.”

The bill’s original intent was to target the U.S. citizenship requirement, but in working with lawyers, Hasegawa’s bill grew to encompass parents’ rights to file lawsuits for adult. Current law says that only if the parents are dependant on an adult child can they file a wrongful death suit. If that person had no spouse or children of their own, no one else can file a suit on their behalf.

Jeff Chale said he lost his daughter in September 2014 when a bus driver crossed the centerline on a Vashon Island highway and struck her car, according to the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

“Because she was 22 years old, not married with no children, Washington state law treats her as if she didn’t matter,” he said. “It treats my wife and I as if we don’t exist.”

Multiple other families testified before lawmakers about the children they lost and were unable to seek legal action.

Katie Kolan, representing the Washington State Medical Association, said the language in the bill is overly broad with when it comes to how many people could seek liability and the damages that they are eligible to win.

She said the bill might cause unintended consequences. For example, physicians could fear litigation, she said, and some may leave their practices for larger institutions or avoid providing complex services. She also said the bill might lead to increased legal claims and, by consequence, increased premiums on malpractice protections.

Speaking against the bill for Washington State Hospital Association, Lisa Thatcher said that the issue of expanding who can file a wrongful death suit and what damages they can seek should be separate issues.

Thomas Miller, speaking for the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers said changes in the existing statutes will result in increased litigation with taxpayer dollars to even understand how to apply the new bill, because it would overturn existing case law.

This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Northwest

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a past news conference. (Screenshot courtesy of TVW)
Masks required at big outdoor events; vaccine mandates expanded

Governor’s mask order takes effect Sept. 13.

This is a screenshot that shows the pursuit of a stolen vehicle Sept. 1 on Interstate 5 in King County.
VIDEO: Auburn police let suspected vehicle thief go, citing new laws

State laws passed earlier this spring require police to have probable cause to engage in a pursuit.

Juanita High School student Ria Mahon. Courtesy photo
Student brings awareness to menstrual health among Puget Sound’s homeless

When Ria Mohan, a junior of Juanita High School in Kirkland, had… Continue reading

Matt Axe, the Wildfire and Forest Resiliency Coordinator with the King Conservation District, speaks to homeowner Anita Kissee-Wilder about fire reduction strategies at her home in North Bend on Aug. 24. Photo by Conor Wilson/Valley Record.
King County braces for more wildfires in rural areas

Firefighters have already responded to a number of large fires.

t
New data dashboard tracks COVID-19 risk for unvaccinated, vaccinated people

Information compiled by Public Health – Seattle & King County

This 2019 security footage at the Cenex gas station in Black Diamond shows Anthony Chilcott on his phone before entering, and driving off with, Carl Sanders’ Ford Raptor and Monkey, his poodle, in the front seat. Courtesy photo
Oversight office releases scathing report on King County Sheriff’s Office

Report analyzes 2019 killing of Anthony Chilcott by deputies.

Close-up hand using phone in night time on street. File photo
King County Council steps closer to establishing hate crime hotline

The program is aimed at reducing the number of unreported hate crimes.

A Link light rail train travels underneath the University of Washington during testing to open the new line to Northgate. COURTESY PHOTO, Sound Transit
Northgate Link light rail testing moves into final stages

Three new north Seattle stations opening Oct. 2

Gov. Jay Inslee (left) bumps elbows with Auburn Vaccine Clinic staff member Mary Johnson (right) on June 22, 2021. Inslee visited the clinic to promote vaccinations in lower King County. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing
COVID-19 surge puts strain on local hospitals

Delta is the predominate strain in Washington.

C-17 at Joint Base Lewis McChord airstrip. (Photo courtesy of United States Military)
King County Councilman calls for plan to help Afghan refugees settle here

Washington state expects roughly 6,000 refugees to come from Afghanistan.