A VICTORY FOR FAMILY JUSTICE IN WASHINGTON STATE

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5163 into law on April 4, 2019. The new law, which goes into effect in July of this year, marks a change in Washington’s current wrongful death laws.  The bill’s largest impact is that it now allows parents to bring claims for the wrongful of their adult child, even if they are not financially dependent on the child. Under the old law, financial dependence was a requirement to file a suit. The new law brings an end to a several year emotional struggle for many Washingtonian parents.

The New Law Under Senate Bill 5163

SB 5163 allows the parents of an adult child to file a wrongful death claim on their child’s behalf. This is true even if the parents are not financially dependent on that child. Prior to SB 5163, parents could only file a wrongful death suit if there was financial dependence. Now, the only condition for parents to bring a claim is that they must have had a “significant involvement” in their child’s life.

The Emotion Behind the New Law

Washington’s new wrongful death law did not appear overnight. Senate Bill 5163 has been years in the making. The bill’s supporters, many of whom are parents, have spent many emotional days, months, and years fighting for its passage.

Consider, for example, Deanna and Alan Hogue. Their son, Bradley Hogue, was crushed to death by rotating augers at his landscaping job in 2014. While the company pleaded guilty to criminal charges involving the incident, Deanna and Alan could not sue for wrongful death. This is because their son was an adult when killed and they were not financially dependent on him.

The Hogues have spent the better part of the last two years working to help the Senate Bill become law. In responding to the passage of SB 5163, Deanna stated: “it was so emotional after two years of fighting for justice for our families.” She continued, “it was so important to us that nobody has to go through what we had to go through, that we could not hold the company accountable.”

The Pros of Senate Bill 5163

There are two main benefits to SB 5163. Supporters of the bill applaud it mainly because it promotes fairness and justice. As Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, commented: “[it is] wholly unfair if a child is wrongfully killed [and] there is no recourse for their death.” Viewing the bill through the lens of a parent, Sutherland also said the bill “is the right thing to do in my opinion.”

The second main benefit of the bill relates to standing for parents and family members who were not residents of the United States when a child or family member died. Washington law, prior to SB 5163, stated that parents and siblings could only bring a wrongful death action, provided that:

  1. they were dependent on the decedent for support; and,
  2. they resided within the U.S. at the time of the decedent’s death.

The bill removed the second condition regarding U.S. residency.

Senate Bill 5163 goes into effect on July 28, 2109. The bill was originally sponsored by Senators Hasegawa, Pedersen, Kuderer, Darneille, McCoy, Saldaña, Dhingra, Frockt, Wilson, C., Liias, Palumbo, and Nguyen. It amends RCW 4.20.010, 4.20.020, 4.20.046, 4.20.060, and 4.24.010.