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.

More in Northwest

The man on Iron Mountain

Chuck Pillon has been living on a 10-acre junk-filled property near Renton for decades.

Safe consumption part 3: The opposite of addiction

Final episode of our three-part series on controversial supervised consumption sites

Safe consumption: The debate

In the first of a three-part series, we enter into the heated, emotional, and sometimes bitter debate around one of the most controversial policy proposals in the country.

Dockless in Seattle

In the year since a new kind of bikeshare was launched in Seattle, the bikes have been found in many interesting spots. But is there a place for them in the region’s future?

Olympic National Park to start capturing mountain goats this summer

Park Service releases record of decision on relocating, killing animals

Legislators and activists seek solutions to farmer suicides

Agricultural workers end their own lives at a higher rate than workers in any other profession.

The Rev. Michael Curry, left, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month, was in Aberdeen on Saturday afternoon for a rally that sought to highlight homelessness. Photo by Scott Johnston
Bishop Curry speaks at Aberdeen affordable-housing rally

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church gained international fame with his sermon at the royal wedding last month.

Defendant in 1987 slayings of BC couple pleads not guilty

William Talbott of SeaTac was arraigned Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Extremely low tide surprises Everett boaters

One boat was stranded for several hours off the Port of Everett launch.

Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg, of Vancouver Island, were found slain in Washington in 1987.
Murder charges filed in 1987 killing of young B.C. couple

The suspect’s former friends have filled in some of the missing pieces for police.

Amelia Allen (left) looks down at the track as she races another driver in unweighted practice soap box derby cars June 7 on Camano Island. The 11th Stanwood-Camano Soap Box Derby takes place Saturday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Brand-new track, permanent Camano home for Soap Box Derby

Races involving 73 cars are on Saturday at a converted ranch where striped pavement belongs to kids.

Father and daughter to graduate from Olympic College together, on Father’s Day

“I was just going to get my degree and walk away and she said, ‘No way!’”