An ongoing case has raised an important question because of a potential quirk of Washington State law: can the survivors of a victim of wrongful death pursue legal action if they aren’t US residents? The attorneys for the defendant in a case involving the death of five students at North Seattle College, says “no” and are trying to have the case dismissed on those grounds.
The plaintiff’s attorneys, however, say “yes.” They believe that the law in question, dating to 1909 and thought to be unique among US states, is racist and xenophobic and that it needs to be invalidated, even if legislative action is required.
The case stems from a September 24th crash in which a duck vehicle, operated by Ride the Ducks Seattle (RTDS), suffered a mechanical failure while crossing the Aurora Bridge. The vehicle swerved into the other lane where it struck a charter bus. Five people on the duck, all students at North Seattle College, died because of the accident. More than 60 others were injured.
In the case involving the family of one victim, Korean citizen Ha Ram Kim, RTDS’s attorney has argued that under the state law in question Kim’s family cannot sue for wrongful death because none of them lives in the US. The family’s lawyer responded that the law dates from a time of strong anti-citizen, especially anti-Asian, sentiment and that it should not apply. The old law is not only unfair to survivors but “remarkably offensive” he says. A Federal judge in Seattle has yet to rule on this issue.
State investigators shut down RTDS for nearly four months after the crash, citing more than 460 safety violations, including not correcting a known problem with the vehicle’s front axle, which the National Transportation Safety Board ruled led to the crash. In January, the company began operations again with a reduced fleet and additional restrictions, such as staying off the narrow bridge where the accident took place. Last month, RTDS settled with the state and agreed to pay a $222,000 fine over previous violations.
There have been complaints about the safety of the bridge for some time, and action finally appears to be on the agenda. Several of the survivors of the crash, many of whom are also suing RTDS, have named the city and state in their suit because the bridge safety problem was known and went unaddressed.
A wrongful death suit is brought when the conditions that led to a death are serious and justify legal action. When someone becomes a victim because of the reckless or negligent actions of another, the responsible party should be held accountable. The survivors of the victim have suffered a tremendous loss, and should receive restitution. Just as important, the parties responsible for a wrongful death need to be penalized sufficiently so that they have an incentive to never again take the sort of reckless action or allow the kind of negligence that led to the death. Others in a similar situation should also see that not taking their responsibilities seriously comes with a very heavy penalty.
If you need help deciding what to do after losing someone close to you in an accident in which you think negligence or recklessness was involved, contact Craig Swapp & Associates. We understand wrongful death cases, and can explain the different courses of action open to you. We offer a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your situation. Give us a call at 800-404-9000 or fill out our online form, or for immediate answers to your questions, use the LiveChat option from any page on this site.