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Families Join Gov. Inslee for Signing of Wrongful-Death Reform

A 2015 bridge collapse took the lives of Rhonda Ellis' son, daughter-in-law and grandson, pictured here. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)
A 2015 bridge collapse took the lives of Rhonda Ellis' son, daughter-in-law and grandson, pictured here. (Photo courtesy of Ellis)
April 26, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill today to ensure that parents of adult children get justice in wrongful-death cases. He'll be joined by families who have fought for this change for years.

Senate Bill 5163 passed in the Legislature this month. It will allow parents of people 18 and older to sue accountable parties for the negligent deaths of their children.

Rhonda Ellis, who lost her son, daughter-in-law and grandson when a bridge collapsed in 2015, says families came together and worked through grief, year after year, to get this law passed.

"We worked so hard,” says Ellis. “We stood together. We supported each other. We didn't leave each other's sides. We took texts in the middle of the night. We all cried together. We have all been a huge team, and in that, I really believe the bill passed because we stood with it and we were persistent."

The law also ensures parents living outside Washington have the right to sue for the wrongful death of an adult child killed in the state.

Groups representing city and county governments opposed to the bill said they would have to pay most of the damages, even if they were found "1% liable" in a case.

Deanna Hogue lost her 19-year-old son, who was crushed in an auger at a summer job in 2014. The company he worked for pleaded guilty in a criminal case, but the Hogues couldn't file a wrongful-death suit because their son wasn't financially dependent on them.

She says a Washington man who recently lost his son has thanked her for this new law.

"His 19-year-old son was negligently killed, and I already feel like it's benefiting parents who can now hold people accountable for the death of their child," says Hogue.

Ellis hopes no more families experience tragedy, but she's happy to know they can now seek justice.

"If there is somebody who faces what I faced and everyone else has faced, they will have a voice and in their grief, they will be heard instead of silenced,” says Ellis.

The Washington State Association for Justice has led the charge to get this law passed for years in Olympia. The group's president, Ann Rosato, says it rights a "horrible wrong" and that the state "will no longer discriminate against families who suffer the ultimate loss."

Disclosure: Washington State Association for Justice contributes to our fund for reporting on Consumer Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA