Tomorrow, state senators will hear a bill attempting to change a 100-year-old state law that partially prevented the families of international students in the fatal 2015 Ride the Ducks crash from receiving wrongful death compensation.
In the fall of 2015, a Ride the Ducks vehicle crashed into a tour bus full of international students on the Aurora Bridge, killing four people. But when the Korean family of one slain student tried to file a wrongful death suit against the company, Ride the Ducks cited a provision in the state's wrongful death statute to dismiss the case: a residency requirement.
Along with just two other states in the country, Washington law requires that the family of someone killed in Washington must also live in the United States in order to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The wrongful death law has a second requirement, too: that the family be financially dependent on their slain relative.
The family of the slain student tried challenging the constitutionality of what they called the "evil, discriminatory" state law, but the lawsuit was dismissed in 2016.
According to the family's attorney and advocates who have been trying to change the statute for years, this provision has its roots in xenophobia, and particularly anti-Asian sentiment. In 1909, a slain dockworker's family tried to collect compensation from the International Contract Company, and the Washington Supreme Court eventually upheld the idea that families who live abroad should be able to do so. Still, anti-Asian sentiment was politically popular at the time, and the state legislature passed a provision cancelling out the Washington Supreme Court's ruling.
Sen. Bob Hasegawa, one of the sponsors of the bill, cited another piece of the wrongful death law's anti-Asian history in a statement about the bill's hearing tomorrow in the Senate Law and Justice Committee. In 1917, the state's wrongful death statute prevented the wives of Chinese coal miners from collecting compensation from the companies their husbands worked and died for, he said.
"This law was wrong in 1917 and has no place in our society in 2018," Hasegawa said in the statement. "Anti-Asian racism should no longer be ingrained into the fabric of our legal system."
Now that the issue has made its way through the courts, only state legislators can change the language of the law. And this year, with a Democratic majority in the state Senate, they may be able to do so. We'll update when the issue comes to a vote.