The fact-finder in a Washington personal injury case must allocate fault among each of the entities that were at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, including entities with immunity, except those immune under the workers’ compensation act. Washington law recognizes the doctrine of parental immunity for claims of negligent supervision. The Washington Supreme Court recently reviewed a case addressing whether a child’s compensation from the driver who struck him could be reduced due to his father’s negligent supervision of him.
In this case, the father’s girlfriend at the time struck his two-year-old child with her vehicle in the driveway of the father’s home. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of the injured child against the father’s girlfriend. She asserted an affirmative defense that the child’s father was fully or partially responsible for the child’s injuries, based on negligent supervision. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, arguing the law did not allow apportionment of fault to the father on these grounds. The court denied summary judgment, and the plaintiff amended the complaint to add the father as a defendant. The amended complaint stated that the other defendant contended the father was concurrently negligent or engaged in willful misconduct that proximately caused the injuries. The father did not make an appearance as a party, and the court entered a default order against him. The jury was instructed to consider whether the plaintiff had met the burden of proving the girlfriend was negligent and had proximately caused the injuries, and whether the defendant had met her burden of proving her affirmative defense that the father was also negligent.
The jury found both the girlfriend and the father were negligent and proximately caused the injuries. The jury attributed 50% of the damages to each of them. The court rejected the plaintiff’s request for a joint and several judgment entered against both the father and the girlfriend for the entire amount of damages and entered only a judgment against the girlfriend for 50% of the damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, and the Supreme Court of Washington granted review.