Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court

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At issue in this case was the applicability of a broad, absolute insurance pollution exclusion clause to a claim based on negligent installation of a hot water heater that led to the release of toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a residential home. Zhaoyun "Julia" Xia purchased a new home constructed by Issaquah Highlands 48 LLC. Issaquah Highlands carried a policy of commercial general liability insurance through ProBuilders. Soon after moving into her home, Xia began to feel ill. A service technician from Puget Sound Energy investigated Xia's home and discovered that an exhaust vent attached to the hot water heater had not been installed correctly and was discharging carbon monoxide directly into the confines of the basement room. The claims administrator for ProBuilders, NationsBuilders Insurance Services Inc. (NBIS), mailed a letter to Xia indicating that coverage was not available under the Issaquah Highlands policy. As a basis for its declination of coverage, NBIS rested on two exclusions under the policy: a pollution exclusion and a townhouse exclusion. NBIS refused to either defend or indemnify Issaquah Highlands for Xia's loss. When a nonpolluting event that was a covered occurrence causes toxic pollution to be released, resulting in damages, the Washington Supreme Court believed the only principled way for determining whether the damages are covered or not was to undertake an efficient proximate cause analysis. Under the facts presented here, the Court found ProBuilders Specialty Insurance Co. correctly identified the existence of an excluded polluting occurrence under the unambiguous language of its policy. However, it ignored the existence of a covered occurrence negligent installation-that was the efficient proximate cause of the claimed loss. Accordingly, coverage for this loss existed under the policy, and ProBuilders's refusal to defend its insured was in bad faith. View "Xia v. Probuilders Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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This action stemmed from a contract for construction of a baseball stadium and home field for the Seattle Mariners baseball team. In its first trip to the Supreme Court, "Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols-Kiewit Construction Company," (202 P.3d 924 (2009) (PFD I)), the Court held that the statute of limitations did not bar the owner’s suit against the general contractor because the action was brought for the benefit of the State, and therefore the exemption from the statute of limitations set out in RCW 4.16.160 applied. This case raised questions about whether the construction statute of repose barred suit against the general contractor and, if not, whether the general contractor may pursue third party claims against two of its subcontractors. The trial court granted summary judgment of dismissal in favor of the general contractor and the subcontractors on statute of repose grounds. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court: "the statute of repose does not bar suit against the general contractor. In accord with several provisions in the subcontracts, the subcontractors are subject to liability to the same extent that the general contractor may be liable for any defective materials or work under the subcontracts. Thus, the trial court erred in holding that the statute of repose bars Hunt Kiewit’s third party claims against the subcontractors." View "Wash. State Major League Baseball Stadium v. Huber, Hunt & Nichols-Kiewit Constr. Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner and Washington resident Delbert Williams was employed by an Idaho employment agency. The agency regularly sent him to work for Pro-Set Erectors, an Idaho construction subcontractor. In 2007, Pro-Set was hired by Respondent Leone & Keeble (L&K), a general contractor. L&K is a Washington company. Later that year, Petitioner was injured on the job. He filed a claim with the Idaho State Insurance Fund, who accepted his claim and issued workers' compensation payments. In late 2008, the payments stopped. Petitioner filed suit against L&K in Washington, but the trial court dismissed his petition citing lack of jurisdiction over Petitioner's Idaho workers' compensation claim. Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court found that the trial court did have jurisdiction over Petitioner's claim: "our courts below...seem to have given deference to opinions of the Idaho courts" instead of applying Washington law. L&K argued that because Petitioner received benefits from Idaho, he was barred from bringing the same claim in Washington. Petitioner's claim was allowed under the Washington Industrial Insurance Act, which fell under the jurisdiction of Washington courts. The Court reversed the decision of the lower courts and remanded Petitioner's case for further proceedings.

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There was a catastrophic failure at the Spokane waste water treatment plant. One man was killed, and two others were severely injured. The survivors, including Respondent Larry Michaels, successfully sued Appellant CH2M Hill, the engineering firm that worked for the city at the time of the accident. The City of Spokane, as employer of Respondents, was immune from liability under the Industrial Insurance Act. All parties agreed that the City was negligent. The issue at trial was whether CH2M Hill was also negligent. On appeal to the Supreme Court, CH2M Hill challenged the trial judge's rulings on its liability as well as twenty-six other findings of fact. Of importance here was whether the City's immunity could be imputed to CH2M Hill under the same insurance act. The Supreme Court dissected all twenty-six points in its review, and concluded that CH2M Hill was not entitled to the same immunity as the City. The Court agreed with all rulings of the trial court. The Court affirmed the trial court's decision in the case.