Supreme Court Ruling on Minor Beneficiaries

The Washington State Supreme Court made a controversial decision last month when they upheld a Clark County Superior Court ruling that granted the defendants motion to dismiss in Atchison v. Great Western Malting Company. The court decided that Kaela Atchison, 21, could not file suit for a wrongful death that occurred when she was 15 because the statute of limitations had expired. Atchison, a minor at the time of her father’s death, was unable to file the wrongful death lawsuit until she turned 18. The defendant argued that Atchison needed to file her suit before June 2003. Atchison argued that since she was a minor, the minority tolled (delayed) the statute of limitations. Therefore, the three year statute of limitations would not have begun until she turned 18. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that that statute grants only a personal representative the right to sue for wrongful death and that minor’s cannot perform that role. Justice Bobbe J. Bridge wrote, “Kaela could not have been a person entitled to bring the wrongful death action when the action accrued, thus, the statute of limitations did not toll during her minority.”

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