Ruling that allowed parents of
adults to sue for wrongful death is overturned
By Tracy Johnson
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Friday, April 23, 2004
One couple's son died after a sport utility vehicle hit him as he pedaled
his bike across a downtown Seattle crosswalk, and one couple lost theirs in
a plane crash.
One couple's son died from an aneurysm after a hospital sent him home, and
another's died after police tried to subdue his schizophrenia-induced violence.
Yet because each son was an adult and did not financially support his parents,
the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday, the parents cannot sue for wrongful
The 7-2 ruling answered an important question that's lingered ever since
a King County Superior Court jury's landmark decision in 2002 to award $1.8
million to the parents of Yianni Philippides, a 22-year-old bicycle messenger
who was struck by the SUV near Seattle's waterfront.
Justices overturned the verdict yesterday, leaving Philippides' parents,
George and Kathryn, crushed that they have no legal recourse for the death
of their son.
"They're really upset. We think the argument we put forth was the right
one," said daughter Zoe. "We believe that a child doesn't stop having importance
or value to the parents when they reach 18."
The family's attorney, William Bailey, said losing a child must be "the
worst thing that can happen to anybody" and contends that grieving parents
should have legal options.
"If the law provides no remedy for the worst thing I can think of, then
The decision can't be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court since it involves
purely matters of state law and not federal issues, Bailey said.
Attorneys Russell Love and Mark Thorsrud, who represent the Michigan man
who slammed into Yianni Philippides and the man's employer, Wolverine World
Wide Inc., said the court's decision was the right one.
They said that while parents' loss of a child is unquestionably devastating,
that has never been the issue. The Legislature has consistently declined to
allow parents to sue unless the child was under 18, Love said.
"Quite simply, a parent of an adult child does not have a cause of action
for loss of consortium unless the parent is financially dependent on that
Thorsrud said it's not a matter of what the law ought to be -- it's simply
a matter of what the law is.
Wolverine's insurer will still have to pay almost $900,000 to Philippides'
estate. The jury awarded $2.7 million to be divided among his estate and parents.
The Supreme Court ruling yesterday threw out $1.8 million that was to go
to his parents.
In a 1998 change to the so-called Child Death Statute, the Legislature's
stated intent "plainly indicates that the amendment is limited to minor children,"
Justice Faith Ireland wrote for the court's majority.
The justices found they had no leeway to broaden who can sue.
Philippides was a University of Washington student with a knack for art
and writing. He was struck on June 22, 2000, and was taken off life support
eight days later, having never regained consciousness.
The driver, Robert Bernard, got a $200 ticket. King County prosecutors said
criminal charges weren't warranted, saying inattention wasn't enough to make
the accident a felony.
In 2002, Superior Court Judge Kathleen Learned made a groundbreaking decision
that Philippides' parents could sue, finding that parents could claim they
depended on their grown children for emotional and psychological support.
After her ruling, which was overturned yesterday, many other parents whose
adult children had been killed made wrongful-death claims.
But a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the parents of Jon Anderson,
a 37-year-old Renton man who died in a plane crash in Pennsylvania after an
allegedly faulty preflight service, could not sue.
Also denied were the parents of John Carlisle, a 39-year-old Seattle man
with cerebral palsy who died of an aortic aneurism two days after a hospital
examined him and sent him home. Both families joined the Philippides' appeal.
Yesterday, the Carlisles' attorney, David Beninger, said the high court's
decision meant "the disabled can be killed with impunity" because now no one
claims the doctors made a horrific mistake.
The parents of Kelly Loomis are suing in U.S. District Court in Tacoma,
alleging Puyallup police used too much force to restrain the 34-year-old
mentally ill man. The judge had halted the case pending yesterday's decision,
which limits their options but leaves them to pursue civil rights claims
For more on Yianni: