Washington might finally change its appalling racist wrongful death law

The Ride the Ducks crash brought unprecedented attention to Washington’s archaic, discriminatory wrongful death law.

The Ride the Ducks crash brought unprecedented attention to Washington’s archaic, discriminatory wrongful death law.


Because HaRam Kim was a single adult with no children, just starting her life in college, and because her parents did not live in the United States, the loss of her as a person is worth nothing under current Washington law. In contrast, the sons of Claudia Derschmidt, killed on the same bus and in the same crash, could make a claim for the loss of their mother.

Washington is one of just three states in the country that prohibits wrongful death claims for single adults with no kids, save for the extremely rare circumstance where a parent or sibling is dependent upon the deceased person for support and also living in the United States.

So when someone like HaRam Kim dies, the only claim that can be made is for what would’ve been the assets in her estate had she lived to normal life expectancy. That number can be relatively small, making it cheap for wrongdoers to kill young adults. Worse, many people who fall into the childless and single category are so young, proving their earning capacity can be extremely difficult.

In the Ride the Ducks case, we argued that Ms. Kim should be given the benefit of the doubt that she wanted to become a medical doctor. The defense argued that there was a scenario where Ms. Kim’s death actually saved the estate money, and that her life was worth no more than $200,000-$300,000. Fortunately, Ms. Kim’s incredible spirit prevailed over the defense’s cynicism, but that is not always the case. Many otherwise righteous cases are never brought—neither accountability nor deterrence achieved.

The law limiting recovery to parents living in the United States has roots in racist origins, where businesses in the early 1900s wanted to diminish claims of Chinese miners killed in workplace accidents.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to inform grieving parents that just because their son or daughter turned 18, the loss of a child—the ultimate loss—is irrelevant in Washington. Their suffering does not matter. It just shocks the conscience that our laws don’t fit with our moral compass as a modern society.

This is not about a boost to injury law. It’s about bringing a widely recognized blemish on our civil justice system into the 21st century. Bravo to the Washington Senate. Now the House needs to vote.