Washington state has an opportunity to correct one of the most unfair and discriminatory laws in our state.
Ask parents what their greatest accomplishment is, and they will say it’s raising their children. Ask parents what is their greatest fear, and they will tell you it’s losing their children. Unfortunately, most parents are unaware that Washington’s wrongful-death law does not protect all families equally under the law. Washington parents do not have the legal right to hold wrongdoers accountable for the preventable, negligent death of an adult child who is not married or does not have children.
This year, Washington state has an opportunity to correct one of the most antiquated, unfair and discriminatory laws in our state. It’s an egregious unfairness that 47 other states in the nation have corrected to ensure all families are protected equally under the law. Our current law only recognizes a parent’s legal right if that parent is financially dependent on a child — a fact that is absurd considering most parents are supporting children through college and beyond.
It’s an outdated, agrarian law that was originally designed to protect only farm families. A 1909 amendment to the law precludes parents who live outside of the United States from bringing an action for the wrongful death of their child, as well. As a result, the current law disproportionately discriminates against families of color, many of whom happen to be international. It also discriminates against families of developmentally disabled adults or adults who are simply not married or do not have children.
Kathleen Smith, Bradley Hogue and Haram Kim were unmarried, childless adult children in Washington who lost their lives due to the preventable negligence of others. Their parents cherished them. Their parents now grieve them.
Kathleen Smith was an adult with intellectual disabilities and the cognitive function of a 5-year-old child. She required full-time care in an adult-care facility and suffered from a severe seizure disorder. As a direct result of her caretaker’s failure to supervise Smith as required, she drowned in a bathtub on March 21, 2006. She was 52. Her mother has been challenging Washington’s wrongful-death law for its discrimination against vulnerable adults like Smith who will likely never marry, hold a job or have the ability to care for themselves.
Bradley Hogue was just 19 and on his second day of a summer job with an Everett-based landscaping company when he was crushed in a bark-blowing truck on July 7, 2014. While the company pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Hogue’s death and was fined for its reckless safety violations, Hogue’s family was shocked to learn they had no legal rights to hold the responsible party accountable for the death of their son.
Haram Kim was an international student from South Korea studying at North Seattle College. She was killed on Sept. 24, 2015, when a Ride the Ducks military-grade vehicle crushed the bus she was traveling in on the way to her college orientation. She was just 20 years old. Ride the Ducks committed more than 450 safety violations, killed five people and injured dozens. Kim’s family and a local coalition with our state’s Asian/Pacific Islander communities are outraged that Washington’s wrongful-death law discriminates against international families or parents who are not U.S. residents.
Under state House Bill 2262 and Senate Bill 6015:
• Parents are granted equal legal rights to hold wrongdoers accountable for the wrongful death of an adult child who was unmarried and childless;
• Parents residing outside Washington state or the United States are granted equal legal rights to hold negligent wrongdoers accountable for the death of their adult child killed in Washington state.
• All families are treated equally under the law by eliminating discriminations against families of developmentally disabled adults, international students and residents, nonresident parents or unmarried adults who are childless.
A coalition of parents, crime victims’ organizations, the disability community, the Asian/Pacific Islander community, members of the labor movement and emergency-responder organizations support a change to this law to make it fair to all families.
When our current law does not create incentives to prevent the deaths of innocent people and prioritize safety guidelines to save lives, we simply safeguard the negligent wrongdoers instead of protecting all families equally under the law.