Justia Transportation Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
Kellogg v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp.
James Hamre died when an Amtrak train derailed in Dupont, Washington, in 2017. He was survived by his mother, who lived with him, and three adult siblings. Under the wrongful death statutes in effect at the time, James’ mother could recover for his wrongful death because she was dependent on him, while his siblings could recover nothing because they did not rely on James financially. The wrongful death beneficiary statute in effect at that time also denied any recovery to beneficiaries like parents or siblings if they did not reside in the United States. In 2018, one of James’ brothers, acting as his personal representative, agreed to a settlement and release with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (aka Amtrak), on behalf of their mother, the only then qualifying wrongful death beneficiary. In 2019, the Washington Legislature amended RCW 4.20.020 to remove the requirement that second tier beneficiaries (parents and siblings) be both dependent on the decedent and residents of the United States. It explicitly stated that the amendment should apply retroactively to claims that were not time barred. In 2020, James’ siblings who qualified as beneficiaries under the revised statute brought wrongful death actions against Amtrak. Amtrak argued that retroactive application would violate its contracts clause and due process rights under the Washington Constitution. The federal district court certified two questions to the Washington Supreme Court to address the issue of retroactivity, and the Supreme Court concluded the Washington State Legislature intended the 2019 amendments to RCW 4.20.020 to apply retroactively to permit newly qualified second tier beneficiaries to assert wrongful death claims that were not time barred. View "Kellogg v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp." on Justia Law
Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg’l Transit Auth.
In 2015, the Washington legislature enacted RCW 81.104.160(1) (MVET statute) authorizing Sound Transit to use two separate depreciation schedules to calculate motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET). Under the statute, Sound Transit could pledge revenue from a 1996 depreciation schedule for MVETs to pay off bond contracts; Sound Transit could use a 2006 depreciation schedule for all other MVETs. Though each schedule is referenced, the MVET statute did not restate in full either schedule. Taylor Black and other taxpayers alleged the MVET statute violated article II, section 37 of the Washington Constitution, stating "no act shall ever be revised or amended by mere reference to its title, but the act revised or the section amended shall be set forth at full length." The Washington Supreme Court held the MVET statute is constitutional because (1) the statute was a complete act because it was readily ascertainable from its text alone when which depreciation schedule would apply; (2) the statute properly adopted both schedules by reference; and (3) the statute did not render a straightforward determination of the scope of rights or duties established by other existing statutes erroneous because it did not require a reader to conduct research to find unreferenced laws that were impacted by the MVET statute. View "Black v. Cent. Puget Sound Reg'l Transit Auth." on Justia Law
First Student, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue
First Student, Inc., a school bus contractor, sought to reverse a Court of Appeals decision to affirm dismissal of its business and occupation ("B&O") tax refund action. At issue was whether First Student's transporting of students qualified as transporting persons "for hire" such that it made First Student subject to the public utility tax ("PUT") rather than the general B&O tax. The Washington Supreme Court found the meaning of "for hire" was ambiguous as used in the PUT, but resolved the ambiguity in favor of the long-standing interpretation that school buses were excluded from the definitions of "motor transportation business" and "urban transportation business" under RCW 82.16.010(6) and (12). The Court found that WAC 458-20-180 was a valid interpretation of the statute, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "First Student, Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law
Dep’t of Transp. v. Mullen Trucking 2005, Ltd.
In May 2013, a clear and sunny day, William Scott, a driver for Mullen Trucking 2005 Ltd., was transporting an oversize load on Interstate 5 from Canada to Vancouver, Washington. Scott's truck had a pilot vehicle driven by Tammy Detray. Along the route was the Skagit River Bridge. As they entered and crossed the bridge in the right lane, Detray was distracted, talking to her husband on a handsfree cell phone device. Affixed to the right front of Detray's pickup was a 16-foot 2-inch tall clearance pole. Detray stated she did not strike the bridge with the pole, but this was contradicted by at least one witness who said the clearance pole hit the bridge four or five times. Detray was only 4.12 seconds and approximately 300 feet ahead of Scott. As Scott neared the bridge, he noticed a truck behind him quickly approaching. About a half mile before they entered the bridge, the approaching truck, owned by codefendant Motorways Transport Ltd. and driven by Amandeep Sidhu, was "virtually beside" Scott on his left, confining Scott to the right side of the bridge. Scott's oversize load struck the lower right curvature portion of 11 sway braces. By striking the trusses, Scott caused the north bridge section to collapse into the river. The State sued Mullen Trucking and Motorways Transport for negligence. The trucking companies counterclaimed, claiming the State was also negligent. The trucking companies conceded the State could not be held liable, but they sought to allocate fault to the State under Washington’s comparative fault statute to offset any damage award that may be entered against them. The Washington Supreme Court was asked to decide whether fault may be allocated to the State under the comparative fault statute when the maximum height statute stated "no liability may attach" to the State under these circumstances. The Court determined no fault could be allocated to the State and affirmed. View "Dep't of Transp. v. Mullen Trucking 2005, Ltd." on Justia Law
Gilmore v. Jefferson County Pub. Transp. Benefit Area
In 2008, a Jefferson County Public Transportation Benefit area vehicle collided with Michael Gilmore's vehicle. Gilmore brought a personal jury lawsuit against Jefferson Transit for injuries he allegedly sustained in that collision. At trial, he was awarded $1.2 million for past and future economic losses. Jefferson Transit appealed, arguing the trial court abused its discretion in admitting certain evidence, barring certain evidence, and in determining Gilmore's counsel's closing arguments did not require a new trial. The Court of Appeals reversed as to all issues Jefferson Transit raised. The Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion with respect to the evidence admitted at trial, "[w]e will not disturb the trial court's decision unless 'such a feeling of prejudice [has] been engendered or located in the minds of the jury as to prevent a litigant from having a fair trial." With respect to closing arguments, the Supreme Court nothing in the record suggested it was incurably prejudicial. "By rationalizing Gilmore's counsel's statements as 'technique' and failing to object after being given several opportunities, it is clear that Jefferson Transit's counsel perceived no error and was 'gambling on the verdict.'" View "Gilmore v. Jefferson County Pub. Transp. Benefit Area" on Justia Law