Washington Court of Appeals Holds Noneconomic Damages Available under Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA)

Whether the term “actual damages” as used in RCW 48.30.015 includes noneconomic damages is an issue of first impression under Washington law. On April 19, 2022, the Court of Appeals, in Beasley v. GEICO General Insurance Company, et al., 2022 WL 1151426 (Wash. Ct. App. 2022), held that the legislative history demonstrates that noneconomic damages are “actual damages” under RCW 48.30.015 and reversed the trial court.

In this underinsured motorist (UIM) case, when instructing the jury on the elements of the IFCA claim, the trial court included the following language: “The Court has determined that [GEICO] unreasonably denied the payment of benefits by failing to pay the undisputed $10,000 offer of UIM benefits made on October 23, 2015.” However, the trial court refused to provide the jury with Beasley’s proposed instruction on damages under IFCA that included noneconomic damages based on the trial court’s ruling that the IFCA claim did not include noneconomic damages because the claim sounded in negligence rather than intentional tort. The jury found that Beasley had proven his IFCA claim and that Beasley’s IFCA-related damages were $84,000. The jury further found that Beasley had proved his insurance bad faith claim and that he had incurred $400,000 in noneconomic damages related to that claim. Beasley appealed the trial court’s ruling that IFCA does not include noneconomic damages.

The Court of Appeals determined that the legislature intended “actual damages” to include noneconomic damages under IFCA because this legislation was intended to protect insureds from an insurer’s unreasonable actions and remanded the matter to the trial court for a new trial on noneconomic damages related to the IFCA claim.

The Court of Appeals held that merely tripling the bad faith noneconomic damages was not an appropriate remedy. Rather, the Court held that the “proper remedy is based on an understanding that although not all bad faith conduct constitutes an IFCA violation, we can presume under the facts of this case that GEICO’s IFCA violations also constituted bad faith” and that “[b]ecause a violation of IFCA also would constitute bad faith under the facts of this case, any IFCA noneconomic damages necessarily would have been included in the $400,000 the jury awarded in bad faith damages.” The Court remanded for a new trial on the issue of IFCA noneconomic damages only, noting that the “IFCA noneconomic damages may be less than the bad faith damages because the bad faith cause of action is much broader.” The Court of Appeals further noted that Beasley is not automatically entitled to treble damages. RCW 48.30.015(2). The Court also ruled that Beasley is not entitled to double recovery.

Oregon Court of Appeals Holds that Insured has a Valid Negligence Per Se Claim against the Insurer based on Alleged Violation of ORS 746.230

On January 26, 2022, the Court of Appeals, in Moody v. Oregon Community Credit Union, et al., 317 Or App 233 (2022), held that the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s negligence per se claim and striking her allegation of emotional distress. This decision will likely be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. As it stands, policyholder counsel will likely cite the decision as representing a significant change in Oregon law and a basis for the expansion of extra-contractual damages in Oregon.

ORS 746.230, Unfair Claim Settlement Practices, provides, among other things, that an insurer may not refuse to pay claims without conducting a reasonable investigation or fail to attempt in good faith to promptly and equitably settle claims when liability is reasonably clear. Plaintiff alleged that defendant violated ORS 746.230 when it unreasonably denied her claim for accidental loss of life benefits arising out of the accidental death of her husband. Defendant asserted its policy excluded accidents caused by or resulting from the insured being under the influence. Plaintiff advanced a number of claims for relief, including a claim for breach of contract and for negligence per se, based on defendant’s alleged failure to conduct a reasonable investigation and its failure, in good faith, to settle her claim – all in breach of ORS 746.230(1). Plaintiff claimed economic damages as well as noneconomic damages for emotional distress.

Plaintiff relied on Abraham v. T. Henry Construction, Inc., 230 Or App 564, 572, 217 P3d 212 (2009), aff’d on other grounds, 350 Or 29, 249 P3d 534 (2011), to support her position that defendant’s breach of its policy of insurance violated an independent, statutory standard of care spelled out in ORS 746.230(1), thereby supporting her claim for negligence per se. Defendant maintained that the Oregon Supreme Court’s decision in Farris v. U.S. Fid. and Guar. Co., 284 Or 453, 587 P2d 1015 (1978) foreclosed a negligence per se claim based on a violation of ORS 746.230(1). The Court of Appeals determined that defendant read too much into the Farris decision in which the plaintiffs did not make a claim for statutory liability for defendant’s violation of ORS 746.230 and concluded that the Supreme Court’s discussion of ORS 746.230 was “plainly dictum.” Moody, 317 Or App at *6. The Court of Appeals found that the present matter posed a different question from the Court’s dictum in Farris. Here, the question is whether the statute establishes a standard of care for purposes of a claim for negligence per se, which was not addressed in Farris. The Court of Appeals held that “[w]hether the legislature intended … to create direct statutory liability does not preclude courts from determining … the enactment [establishes] a standard of care for purposes of stating a claim for negligence per se.” Id. at *6. The Court of Appeals further held that “[t]he fact that the legislature may not have intended to create a private right of action for recovery of emotional distress damages does not necessarily mean that the legislature did not enact ORS 746.230, at least in part, to prevent such emotional distress from occurring.” Id. at *7.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Soha & Lang, P.S. or its clients.

Washington Supreme Court Holds Liability of School District Cannot be Precluded as a Matter of Law Based on Legal Cause

On March 4, 2021, the Washington Supreme Court held in Myers v. Ferndale School District, No. 98280-5, that the alleged acts of negligence of the school in not complying with internal policies and safety precautions for taking students on an off campus walk were not too remote or insubstantial to be the legal cause of the student’s death.

In this case, a wrongful death claim was brought on behalf of a student against the school district after a student was killed by a vehicle while on an off campus walk with his class. The trial court dismissed the negligence claim on summary judgment based on lack of duty. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that there were sufficient factual issues on duty and proximate causation.

The Washington Supreme Court affirmed. The Supreme Court noted that while the Court of Appeals erred in analyzing legal causation, it properly concluded that material issues of fact existed concerning proximate causation. The Court found that legal causation should not be assumed to exist every time a duty of care has been established. Legal cause is determined by utilizing “mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy, and precedent.”

The Court found that sufficient evidence was presented to survive summary judgment by establishing a factual question as to whether the school district’s act of taking the students off campus led to the accident. The Court’s legal cause analysis included the underlying policy considerations for imposing liability. The Court held:

[O]ur cases establish a policy based on the special relationship where school districts may be liable for harms suffered by students even where the harm occurs off campus and is caused by the act of a third party. This flows from the custodial relationship and responsibility between schools and students. Since students are involuntarily subject to the school’s control, schools must take affirmative steps to protect students even against reasonably foreseeable acts of third parties.

Here, the off campus walk did not comply with the internal policies and safety precautions. The Court held the alleged acts of negligence were not too remote or insubstantial to be the legal cause of the student’s death. Therefore, the Court could not preclude liability as a matter of law based on legal cause.

In a concurrence, Judge McCloud disagreed with the majority’s application of its legal cause analysis. She agreed that the school district’s failure to obtain required parental permission for the walk suffices to show legal cause. However, she disagreed that the teacher’s decision to take the walk on the sidewalk, at a normal pace, in broad daylight, suffices to show legal cause. She noted that “[i]f legal cause is satisfied here, then legal cause could be satisfied for accidents occurring during many basic recreational and educational activities that students enjoy, from jump rope to dance.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Soha & Lang, P.S. or its clients.

Washington Supreme Court Holds Employers Are Strictly Liable for Employee’s Discriminatory Conduct of Member of the Public

On January 31, 2019, the Washington Supreme Court held in Floeting v. Group Health Cooperative, No. 95205-1, that under the plain language of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”), employers are held strictly liable for their employee’s discriminatory conduct toward a customer in a place of public accommodation.

In this case, plaintiff alleged that a Group Health Cooperative employee repeatedly sexually harassed him while he was seeking medical treatment. Plaintiff sued Group Health for the unwelcome and offensive sexual conduct he experienced. Group Health argued that workplace sexual harassment doctrines should be imported into the public accommodations context, categorically limiting employer liability. The trial court dismissed his claim on summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed.

The Washington Supreme Court noted that under the plain language of the WLAD, employers are directly liable for the sexual harassment of members of the public by their employees, just as they would be if their employees turned customers away because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. The Court found that to be actionable, the asserted discriminatory conduct must be objectively discriminatory. The Court also found that the employer will be liable if its employee caused the harm prohibited by the statute, even if it did not participate in the discrimination and was not negligent in training or supervising its employees. The Glasgow1 standard for sexual discrimination committed by an employee against a coworker in the employment context does not apply to claims for discrimination in places of public accommodation.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Soha & Lang, P.S. or its clients.

1. Glasgow v. Ga.-Pac. Corp., 103 Wn.2d 401 (1985).

Washington Court of Appeals Affirms $1.2 Million Attorney Fee Award

In Baker v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, et al., Case No. 76218-4-I (October 15, 2018), the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington held that the trial court acted well within its discretion in determining the insureds’ reasonable attorney fees in the amount of $1,209,757.25, through the use of the lodestar method and a 1.3 multiplier.


The Court of Appeals addressed both an appeal by the insureds and a cross-appeal by the insurance company.  There was no dispute that the insureds were the prevailing party and thus entitled to reasonable attorney fees under Washington law.  Consequently, the court’s analysis focused on whether the trial court abused its discretion in determining the insureds’ reasonable attorney fees.


As to the insureds’ appeal, the Court of Appeals held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining the reasonable attorney fees.  The court held that the “primary consideration” in determining an appropriate award of attorney fees is reasonableness.  The court held that the lodestar method is an established method of determining a reasonable attorney fee award.  The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s determination in excluding or reducing hours billed for fees related to the following: (1) tax foreclosure, as Fireman’s Fund promptly paid the bill after being notified, and the property tax bill was at best tangential to the Bakers’ claims against Fireman’s Fund; (2) fees related to PRP claims, as the Bakers failed to carry their burden to demonstrate the fees were non-duplicative or necessary for the Bakers’ claims against Fireman’s Fund; (3) fees incurred litigating against OneBeacon, as the common-fund doctrine did not apply and Fireman’s Fund likely secured its right to contribution from OneBeacon at the time the Bakers tendered their claim to OneBeacon, as the right was created by the continuous-trigger doctrine; and (4) fees for acting as Bakers’ personal counsel, as the tax consequences of the settlement were irrelevant to establishing Fireman’s Fund’s liability to the Bakers and the record showed that the parties agreed to settlement in principle.


The Court of Appeals also held that there was not an abuse of discretion by applying a 1.3 multiplier instead, of the insureds’ requested 2.5 multiplier.  It reasoned that the trial court considered the risk (albeit not large) that no recovery might be obtained, the length of time it took to resolve, that the insureds’ private counsel recovered no fees or costs for up to nine years and the contingent nature of Bakers’ fee agreement, as proper reasons supporting a multiplier.  The court’s decision was supported by its findings and substantial evidence and did not abuse its discretion in awarding a 1.3 multiplier to the lodestar fee.


As to the cross-appeal, the Court of Appeals found that the record before them demonstrated that the trial court had considered the entire record, and that the insurance company had failed to show that the trial court’s decision was manifestly unreasonable.  The Court of Appeals also rejected the insurance company’s argument that it was error to calculate the lodestar without evidence of actual hourly rates.  The Court of Appeals held that the trial court’s determination of reasonable hourly rates was supported by substantial evidence and was not an abuse of discretion.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Soha and Lang, P.S. or its clients.