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A dog owner is generally strictly liable for injuries resulting from a Washington dog bite if the person who was bitten was in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property.  This strict liability statute applies only when the dog bites a person.  Where there is no dog bite, strict liability does not apply.

A woman recently appealed a jury verdict against her in an alleged dog bite case.  The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant and his mother-in-law alleging one of the defendant’s dogs bit her during an altercation between her dog and the defendant’s dogs.  The defendant’s dogs were in his mother-in-law’s care at the time of the incident, but the mother-in-law settled with the plaintiff prior to trial.  The plaintiff alleged the defendant was strictly liable for her injuries as the dog’s owner pursuant to RCW 16.08.040.  Under RCW 16.08.040, a dog owner is liable for injuries resulting from his or her dog biting a person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place.

The jury responded “no” on the special verdict form asking if one of the defendant’s dogs bit the plaintiff.  The plaintiff appealed, arguing the jury instructions were erroneous.  The appeals court, found, however, that the plaintiff had not preserved the issues regarding the jury instructions for appeal and therefore did not address them.

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Challenging irrelevant or prejudicial evidence is often a significant part of defense in a Washington state criminal case.  Evidence of prior bad acts by the defendant is not admissible to show the defendant’s propensity to commit the charged crime, but may be admissible for other purposes, such as showing intent or motive.  Even if there is an allowable reason to admit evidence of a prior bad act, it must be excluded if the risk of unfair prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value.

A defendant successfully challenged his conviction after a trial court allowed evidence of an alleged assault on his girlfriend that occurred prior to the events leading to the charges.  His girlfriend called 911 and reported being assaulted by the defendant.  She said he was intoxicated and had punched her.  There were then sounds of her screaming and repeatedly saying “Stop” on the recording.  There were also what the appeals court referred to as “hitting sounds.” Someone else then told the operator that the girlfriend looked to be “hurt quite badly” and provided a description of the defendant and his vehicle.  The girlfriend provided the defendant’s name and said he had beaten her.

According to the appeals court opinion, the defendant later wrecked his truck.  A woman subsequently found the defendant coming up her basement stairs.  He told her he was hiding from the police because he had been abused and framed by his girlfriend.  The woman ultimately called 911.  Law enforcement found a large knife belonging to the woman in the defendant’s waistband when they arrested him.

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Courts handling Washington child custody cases should base their determinations regarding parental responsibilities on the best interests of the child.  The court has broad discretion in determining the parenting plan.  However, the court must place restrictions on a parent’s decision-making if it finds he or she has a history of domestic violence.

A Washington appeals court recently reversed a parenting plan that allowed joint decision-making despite a history of domestic violence.  The parents divorced in 2014.  The final parenting plan required the father to meet with a doctor to address domestic violence issues before his summer residential time with the children.  The parenting plan also required him to get a certified evaluation regarding domestic violence and follow any treatment recommendations.

The plan also awarded the mother sole decision-making until the court heard from the domestic violence counselor or evaluator.  The order provided that there would be joint decision-making after the father met the requirements regarding domestic violence.

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When a person is injured by someone else’s negligence in a Washington automobile accident, he or she may want to seek compensation from the negligent party.  In some cases, however, the negligent party may not have sufficient insurance or may be unidentified.  In such cases, the injured person may seek recovery from his or her own uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage.  If the insurance company denies the claim, the injured person may have to sue his or her own insurance company.

In a recent case, a man challenged the dismissal of claims against his insurer.  The plaintiff was injured while riding his bicycle.  There were no witnesses. The plaintiff cannot remember the accident, but believes he was hit by an automobile.  He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in the hospital for 10 days.  He reported the accident to his automobile insurer.  The insurer denied his underinsured motorist (UIM) claim because it did not find evidence he was hit by a vehicle.  The insurer reopened the claim after being contacted by the plaintiff’s attorney, but denied it again.  The plaintiff sued his insurer for breach of contract, negligence, and violations of the Insurance Fair Conduct Act and the Consumer Protection Act.

The insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether he had been hit by a vehicle.  The insurer also argued his other claims were barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

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Once a Washington divorce decree is issued, a maintenance award can only be modified by the court when the party seeking the modification shows a substantial change in circumstances.  A fact unknown to the trial court or an unanticipated fact that arises after the decree is entered may constitute a substantial change in circumstances.  In a case involving spousal maintenance, commonly referred to as “alimony,” a substantial change may involve a significant increase or decrease in income.  In a recent case, the ex-wife sought to continue maintenance when her ex-husband decided not to retire at the time they had previously expected him to do so.

The divorce decree required the husband to pay spousal maintenance in the amount of $1100 per month for 48 months.  The wife sought to extend the maintenance four years later.  She alleged there was a substantial change in circumstances because the husband had not retired from the military as she had expected.  If he had retired, she would have started receiving part of his retirement benefits when the maintenance payments stopped.  She provided an email from the husband in which he stated he would pay the maintenance “until [he] got out.” The husband told her he was not ready to retire in December 2016, and suggested he would not do so until 2019.  The wife requested the maintenance continue until the husband’s retirement. She also requested attorney fees in her reply declaration.

The commissioner denied the wife’s motion, finding no substantial change in circumstances.  The commissioner also granted the husband’s motion to strike the wife’s request for attorney’s fees and denied the request.

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In any criminal case, the prosecution must prove all elements of the crime, including the mens rea, or intent.  Depending on the facts of the case and the crime charged, the intent element can sometimes be difficult for the prosecution to prove.  This can be especially true in Washington domestic violence cases, where witnesses may be reluctant to testify.

A defendant recently challenged his convictions of assault in the second degree and misdemeanor violation of a no-contact order.  He appealed, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions.  He argued alternatively that there was insufficient evidence he met the “reckless” element of the assault charge.  He further argued the information failed to include an essential element of the misdemeanor violation charge.

In April of 2016, a judge granted a domestic violence no-contact order to the woman the defendant had lived with.

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Generally, in a Washington premises liability case, a landowner may be held liable for injuries on the land if he or she has not given exclusive control of the premises to a lessee.  If, however, the lease requires the landlord to repair the premises, then the landlord may be held liable for his or her own negligence.

The Washington Supreme Court (the “Court”) was recently asked to determine if a landlord was liable for injuries occurring in an area where the tenant had exclusive possession, but where the lease only granted the tenant priority use and the landlord was obligated to maintain and repair the premises.

The plaintiff was severely injured when a passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham (the “Port”) fell. She worked for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). The State of Alaska has leased the Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) from the Port of Bellingham for many years.  Although AMHS has exclusive use of some areas under the lease, the lease gives AMHS only priority use of parking spaces and the marine facilities, including the passenger ramp.  Under the lease, the Port was solely responsible for keeping the premises “in good repair and tenantable condition.”  The lease requires the Port to keep the premises “in good and substantial repair and condition.”   The Port is to “maintain the leased premises free of structural or mechanical hazards.”

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Defendants in Washington criminal cases often challenge the evidence used against them.  One way to challenge evidence is to challenge the validity of the search warrant used to obtain it.  When a court issues a search warrant, it must determine there is probable cause based on the facts presented to it.  This determination is the court’s responsibility and cannot be made by police officers, so there must be more than conclusory statements supporting the warrant.  The court is permitted, however, to draw reasonable inferences from the facts presented.

The defendant in a recent case challenged a search warrant.  According to the appellate court opinion, the defendant was convicted of vehicular assault after losing control of her vehicle and crashing into two other vehicles.  Subsequent blood tests found a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 0.13 and 4.0 nanograms of THC.  The defendant appealed her conviction, arguing a lack of probable cause to support the warrant authorizing the blood draw.

The firefighter paramedic who responded to the scene saw a female driver who was barely conscious.  He transported her to the hospital.  He identified the defendant as the driver.

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Following a Washington final divorce decree, a maintenance award, also known as spousal support, may only be modified if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the decree.  The change has to be something that was not within the contemplation of the parties at the time of the divorce.  There may be a change in circumstances if the spouse receiving maintenance was expected to become self-supporting, but is unable to do so through no substantial fault of his or her own.  A trial court may choose a disproportionate property division instead of ordering maintenance.

A former wife recently sought modification of an order of maintenance shortly before the maintenance obligation was to expire.  The couple had been married 30 years before they separated.  The husband was a cardiologist, and the wife had worked as a registered nurse, but stopped working in 1989.  She had been treated for mental health issues since 1996.

The husband was ordered to pay maintenance of $4,600 a month for five years, starting in August 2010, and child support of $1,400 a month until the youngest child graduated high school.   The monthly maintenance payment was to increase to $5,750 per month when the oldest child graduated.

In a series of decisions, the United States Supreme Court held that it is unconstitutional to impose certain severe sentences on juvenile offenders.  The Court first found the death penalty unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.  Then, it found a sentence of life without parole to be unconstitutional for any juvenile offender who did not commit a homicide.  The Court later held that mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.  Following these decisions, Washington juvenile sentencing laws were revised to eliminate mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders.  A new Washington law also required re-sentencing of juvenile offenders who had been sentenced to life without parole: RCW 10.95.030.  Washington also enacted RCW 9.94A.730, which allows juvenile offenders to petition for early release after serving 20 years.

An eligible offender sought re-sentencing under RCW 10.95.035. He had been convicted of multiple crimes as a juvenile, including aggravated murder and premeditated murder in 1992.  He received a sentence of life without parole for aggravated murder and a consecutive sentence for premeditated murder.

At his re-sentencing hearing, he argued his sentences should run concurrently.  The state argued the statute only gave the court the authority to address the sentence of life without parole and that the consecutive sentence was required pursuant to RCW 9.94A.589 because the crimes involve d multiple violent offenses that arose from separate and distinct criminal conduct.  The judge agreed with the state and sentenced the defendant to 25 years to life for aggravated murder and left the sentence for the premeditated murder at 280 months to be served consecutively.  The defendant appealed and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.  The Washington Supreme Court granted review upon the defendant’s petition.

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