The Ride the Ducks corporation recently cited a century-plus-old law to dismiss a claim that arose from their vehicle causing a fatal crash on Highway 99. The law? An amendment to the wrongful death law that allows only parents “who are resident within the United States” at the time of their child’s death to claim damages.
In May, reported The Stranger, one of the affected families, the Kims, challenged the constitutionality of the state law in federal court for violating both the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
The resident status law was passed in 1909, during a period of particularly strong anti-Asian and generally xenophobic sentiments, as an attempt to evade liability after a case involving a dockworker.
In The Seattle Times, Larry Shannon of WSAJ said, “It’s something in law that nobody knows about until something like this (the Ducks crash) happens, and then you think, ‘My God, how have we allowed that to be the law?'” He pointed out how our law is unique among states – only a couple other states have similarly discriminatory laws. He says that the ability to change the law resides primarily with legislators.
As WSAJ Past President Steve Bulzomi said, “We’ve been down [in Olympia] for many years trying to get this changed.” He also mentioned the other ways Washington’s law is discriminatory: especially that parents are granted damages if their child is a minor, but the day they turn 18, the parents lose that right. The law also came under fire before 2012 for its particularly harsh and discriminatory impact on the LGBT community, who, as single adults, saw their lives devalued.
We will be continuing to fight for this basic constitutional right for families. The Kim family’s case will be heard in September.