07.26.2017

Washington Supreme Court Holds that Fault for Negligence Cannot be Apportioned to a Parent of the Plaintiff Under RCW 4.22.070

In Smelser v. Paul, et al, ___ Wn.2d ___, ___ P.3d ___ (July 6, 2017), the Washington Supreme Court found that, under the parental immunity doctrine, parents owe no duty of care to their children, and on that basis, fault for negligence cannot be apportioned to a parent of the plaintiff under RCW 4.22.070.

Derrick Smelser, then two years old, was run over by a car driven by defendant, Jeanne Paul while playing in his yard. At the trial court level, Ms. Paul was allowed to assert an affirmative defense that the child’s father was partially at fault on a theory of negligent supervision.  The trial court instructed the jury under RCW 4.22.070, and the jury determined that the father was 50% at fault.  The trial court did not enter judgment against the father because of the parental immunity doctrine.

The Washington Supreme Court found that the common law doctrine of parental immunity in Washington State establishes that there is no tort liability or tort duty applicable to a parent for negligent supervision or negligence in other parenting activities.  The Washington Supreme Court went on to state that, under RCW 4.22.051, in order to be an at-fault entity, the party must have engaged in negligent or reckless conduct that breaches a recognized duty.  Because the Court found that parents do not have a recognized duty of supervision of their children, the parents’ conduct is not tortious, and they cannot be an at-fault entity.

Pursuant to this holding, the Washington Supreme Court remanded the matter to the trial court, with instructions to enter judgement for 100% of the damages against Ms. Paul.

Posted by Jennifer Dinning