Washington Court Discusses Parental Immunity and Proportionate Liability in Personal Injury Appeal

In a recent personal injury case, the Court of Appeals of Washington decided issues involving parental immunity and allocation of fault in a negligence claim. In Smelser v. Paul (Wash. Ct. App. Apr. 4, 2016), the defendant was visiting a friend with two young sons who were playing in the yard. As the defendant was leaving the driveway, she backed up her truck before turning to go forward. As she started forward, she hit one of the boys with her truck, causing him serious injuries.

The plaintiffs brought a negligence lawsuit against the defendant for the injuries of the boy she hit, as well as for emotional harm to his brother. The defendant responded with an affirmative defense that the father was also negligent in causing the alleged injuries. The trial court subsequently granted the defendant’s motion to have the fault allocated against all the plaintiffs who caused the injuries, including the boys’ father. After a trial, the jury found that the negligence of both the defendant and the father equally caused the boy’s physical injuries, but neither negligently caused his brother’s emotional harm. On appeal, the father contended that he was entitled to parental immunity, and he argued that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to allocate fault.

Washington’s tort reform statute provides for proportionate liability, which requires the fact-finder to allocate the percentage of fault attributable to multiple parties responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries. Specifically, RCW 4.22.070 lists the parties whose fault shall be determined, including parties immune from liability to the claimant, with an exception for those with immunity pursuant to the worker’s compensation act.

Interpreting the statute, the court found that it does not provide an exception for parental immunity, but instead it requires the trier of fact to determine the percentage of fault attributable to every party that caused a plaintiff’s injuries, regardless of whether it is a defendant, a third-party defendant, a party released by the plaintiff, or a party immune from liability to the plaintiff. The court explained that although the father would have been immune from liability to his sons on a claim of negligent supervision, the jury could nevertheless find that the father’s action or inaction proximately caused the injury to his sons. As a result, the court affirmed the ruling of the trial court, holding that the jury could properly allocate fault to parents with parental immunity.

Seeking legal representation after a pedestrian or motor vehicle accident can be beneficial in helping you determine your legal options, including whether to pursue damages from a negligent party. The personal injury attorneys at the Washington firm of Blair & Kim, PLLC provide comprehensive legal advice and representation to accident victims, as well as handling criminal and family law cases. To discuss your injury claim with one of our experienced attorneys, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Appeals Court Examines Jury Award in Car Accident Case, Affirms Judge’s Grant of Additur, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 25, 2015

Washington Supreme Court Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Injury Claim Against King Countyy, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published March 29, 201

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