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Who’s “Family?” WA’s Wrongful Death Law Challenged

March 5, 2008

Olympia, WA – The death of one of his young constituents has led Spokane Representative Timm Ormsby to challenge Washington's wrongful death laws. Ormsby says most people probably don't realize that if an adult residing in Washington state dies with no spouse or children, the parents aren't considered "survivors" and can't sue anyone for negligence, unless their grown child had been supporting them. Ormsby believes that in cases of wrongful death parents should have the right to legal recourse, no matter what a child's age.

"As a state, we encourage families to rely on each other before they begin to rely on the state, or on the federal government, to try and resolve issues within the family. And this seems to fly in the face of the interest of the state in encouraging a strong family relationship."

Ormsby's legislation was prompted by the case of Tony Burkhardt, 22, of Spokane. Burkhardt died when a clinic misdiagnosed a diabetic reaction. Burkhardt's parents have been unable to take the clinic to court.

Ormsby says the bill has a number of opponents, including the state Attorney General.

"It was opposed by the cities, the counties, the insurance industry and the medical association because it increases, albeit narrowly, the amount of cases they would be liable for."

The bill would also eliminate Washington's current requirement that a person be a U.S. resident at the time of death in order for family members to be able to sue for negligence.

Ormsby adds the current Washington laws have been in effect about a hundred years. The bill to change them has passed in the House and will be debated on the Senate floor this week.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA