Last week, Washington’s House of Representatives voted to change the state’s wrongful death laws, allowing parents and siblings of victims over 18 to file lawsuits as well as family members who live outside the United States.
The Senate had passed the legislation in March, 30-17, and the House followed suit, 61-37, on April 15.
Islanders Jeff and Dolly Chale have been working to change the state’s laws for three years, following the death of their daughter Katie on Vashon nearly five years ago. She was killed when a tour bus full of school children on a field trip crossed the center line and hit her car.
Following that tragedy, the Chales learned that Washington was one of the few states in the country that did not allow parents of children 18 and older from filing a wrongful death lawsuit unless they were financially dependent on that child. The legislation just passed changes that law, written in the late 1800s, and will make a suit possible if the parents had “significant involvement” in the child’s life, including giving or receiving emotional and psychological support from the child.
The legislation will also bring to an end a law that was written in the early 1900s that had originally prevented the families of Chinese laborers from suing when their loved ones died because of unsafe working conditions. Going forward, residency in this county will no longer be required to file wrongful death suits. Earlier this month, Jeff Chale said he considered it an embarrassment that “such a discriminatory law was still on the books.”
Late last week, he said he and Dolly were at home on April 15 when he received a text saying the legislation, SB 5163, was on the floor. They then followed the proceedings online.
“Both Dolly and I sat there and watched. We had tears in our eyes, but they were tears of gratitude for making these laws change,” he said.
Jeff Chale, accompanied by Dolly, had testified six times during this legislative session, advocating a change in the laws. He credited the Washington Association for Justice for its work in this and previous years, including bringing together several families who had suffered the wrongful death of an adult child. Those family members testified along with the Chales several times in Olympia.
Jeff Chale also singled out several politicians for thanks, including Sen. Joe Nguyen, who represents Vashon and cosponsored the bill; Sen. Jamie Pederson, of the 43rd District, who was a strong advocate of the legislation; and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, who gave a floor speech about the legislation:
“If she had been 17 years old, they (her parents) could have recovered full damages for the … loss of her life,” Fitzgibbon said. “ If she had been married, then her spouse could have recovered full damages; if her parents had been financially dependent on her, they could have recovered full damages; if she had been injured and not killed, she could have recovered full damages, but as it were, as a 22-year-old unmarried adult, Washington state law treated her life as if it had no value and that’s wrong. This bill will correct that.”
The legislation had several critics, including municipalities and the Washington State Hospital Association, among others.
Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill on Friday.