By Sean Harding
WNPA Olympia News Bureau
A proposal prompted by the 2015 “Ride the Ducks” accident in Seattle came one step closer to becoming law last week, as people voiced their views on changes to Washington’s wrongful death and injury statutes that would expand the beneficiaries entitled to claim damages.
“The law currently does not allow for a nonresident parent to seek justice,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sharon Santos. “It was a law that was established more than 100 years ago.”
Santos said the changes were prompted by the collision between a Ride the Ducks tourist vehicle and a chartered school bus carrying students from North Seattle College in 2015, killing five international students and injuring more than 60 other people. Santos’ bill would allow parents to claim a wrongful death, regardless of their residency.
“Our concern regarding HB 1135 is not with the residency requirement. We absolutely support that change in the law,” said Jennifer Burkhardt, chief human resources officer and general counsel at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. “Our concern is with the other changes that increase legal exposure and will lead to increases in insurance premiums.”
Other provisions allow parents of adult children to seek recoveries if they had “significant involvement” in the child’s life. Under current law, a parent may not seek wrongful death if they are not financially dependent on the adult child.
In both the current and proposed version of the law, a parent is not eligible for damages if the adult child has a domestic partner, spouse, or children. The proposal would allow each parent to file separate claims regardless of marital status, and expands the damages that may be claimed, including anxiety, loss of emotional support, and humiliation.
HB 1135 is retroactive and if passed, would apply to all claims that are not time barred and all claims pending in court on the date the legislation becomes effective.