Washington State Law Update: Other Cases – by Timothy Mitchell

MUNICIPALITIES

Williams v. King County (8/2/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed dismissal of claims of negligence against a county on the grounds that there was no foreseeability or constructive knowledge of the potential for the tree to fall.

Key Quotes:

  • “Municipalities are generally held to the same negligence standards as private parties.”
  • “Government entities owe a duty to all persons to maintain their roadways in a condition that is reasonably safe for ordinary travel. But this duty is conditional, for it arises only when the government entity has notice of and time to correct the hazard in question. As a result, the County must have (1) notice of a dangerous condition which it did not create, and (2) reasonable opportunity to correct it before liability arises for negligence. . . . Constructive notice may be inferred from the elapse of time a dangerous condition is permitted to continue. Constructive notice arises if the condition existed for a period of time so that the municipality should have discovered its existence through the exercise of reasonable care.”

Schmitt v. Pierce County (7/6/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 3) partially reversed grant of summary judgment to county in connection with prisoner’s negligence claims against county, holding that an expert was not needed for claims of general negligence against county.

McCoy v. City of Sumas (7/19/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed dismissal of malicious prosecution and other claims against city and prosecutor, holding that a “prosecutor’s charging decisions are well within the scope of prosecutorial immunity.”

Key Quotes:

  • “Whether a prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity for challenged conduct depends upon the nature of the function performed. Absolute immunity applies only to those actions within the scope of traditional prosecutorial functions. This immunity extends to both the State and the entity employing the prosecutor.  It is well established that a prosecutor who acts within the scope of his or her duties in initiating and pursuing a criminal prosecution is absolutely immune from liability.  This immunity is warranted to protect the prosecutor’s role as an advocate because any lesser immunity could impair the judicial process.”
  • “Prosecutors are vested with wide discretion in determining whether to charge suspects with criminal offenses.  To succeed in an unconstitutional selective prosecution claim the defendant must show (1) disparate treatment, i.e., failure to prosecute those similarly situated, and (2) improper motivation for the prosecution.  The decision to charge some but not others guilty of the same crime does not violate equal protection standards unless the selection was deliberately based upon an unjustifiable standard such as race, religion, or other arbitrary classification.”

 

DRAM SHOP

Wallace v. DH Seattle Management (7/26/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed grant of MSJ to bar where plaintiff “did not provide direct observational evidence that [plaintiff] was readily and apparently intoxicated when [bar] served him alcohol.”

Key Quotes: “RCW 66.44.200(1), the overservice statute, provides that no person shall sell any liquor to any person apparently under the influence of liquor.  Businesses that violate the statute by serving drunk drivers will be civilly liable to third-party victims for damages caused by their patron.  To survive summary judgment in an overservice case, evidence on the record must demonstrate that the tortfeasor was apparently under the influence by direct, observational evidence at the time of the alleged overservice or by reasonable inference deduced from observation shortly thereafter.  Apparently means readily perceptible to the senses and capable of being readily perceived by the sensibilities or understanding as certainly existent or present.”

 

BREACH OF CONTRACT

Tadych v. Roger Jobs Motor, Inc. (7/19/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 1) affirmed dismissal of home owner’s breach of contract claims related to defective construction, holding that the statute of limitations on the claims was validly reduced from 6 years to 1 under the terms of the construction contract.

Key Quotes: “A contract term is substantively unconscionable only where it is “onesided or overly harsh,” “shocking to the conscience,” “monstrously harsh,” or “exceedingly calloused.” No court has held that a contract clause shortening the time for one party to bring a claim against the other is per se unconscionable. We have instead recognized that, in general, parties can contractually agree to shorten a statute of limitations period. A stipulated limitations period will prevail unless prohibited by statute or public policy or unless the provision is “unreasonable.” A contractually shortened limitations period is reasonable in duration if the time allowed affords the plaintiff sufficient opportunity to ascertain and investigate the claim and prepare for the controversy. Washington courts have found contractual limitations clauses of one year or less to be reasonable.”

 

INSURANCE – MEDICAL BENEFITS RECOVERY

Group Health Cooperative v. Hall (8/3/21)
[Note: This is a summary of an unpublished opinion, which holds no precedential value]

Holding: Court of Appeals (Div. 2) reversed grant of summary judgment to medical benefits coverage insurer on claim for reimbursement of benefits paid for medical expenses, holding that there were questions of fact as to whether the insured failed to cooperate, but that the insurer was not in bad faith.

Key Quotes:

  • “While an insurer is entitled to be reimbursed to the extent that its insured recovers payment for the same loss from a [tortfeasor] responsible for the damage, it can recover only the excess which the insured has received from the wrongdoer, remaining after the insured is fully compensated for the loss.  . . .  Settlement for less than the tortfeasor’s policy limits does not create a presumption of full compensation. Instead, acceptance of a settlement is simply some evidence that the insured has been full compensated.  In addition, full compensation is determined without any reduction for comparative fault. An insurer is entitled to an offset, setoff, or reimbursement when both: (1) the contract itself authorizes it and (2) the insured is fully compensated by the relevant ‘applicable measure of damages.”
  • “If the insured breaches the contract, the insurer has a remedy, but only if there is prejudice to the insurer from the insured’s breach. The insurer has the burden of proof to demonstrate prejudice by the insured’s actions. To establish prejudice, the insurer must show concrete detriment . . . together with some specific harm to the insurer caused thereby.  Determining prejudice from a policy breach is a question of fact for the jury and will seldom be established as a matter of law.”