Daily Decisions: County Had No Duty to Protect Drunk Pedestrian

Okay, Delores Weaver v. Spokane County (Division 3, May 8, 2012), is an eighteen-page opinion. I’m gonna do my best to summarize it for you using (almost) nothing but direct quotes from the opinion! Yes, perhaps I’m getting a bit loopy, but this is my  ninth post in two days, so please forgive me. Here goes:

“About one and one-half hours after a sheriff’s deputy told an intoxicated Duane Weaver not to walk in the street, or to at least walk facing traffic, a drunk driver struck Mr. Weaver.  He died 17 months later from his injuries.  Mr. Weaver’s estate . . . sued Spokane County for negligence, claiming that the deputy’s failure to take Mr. Weaver into protective custody breached the duty owed to him.”

“Under the public duty doctrine, no liability may be imposed for a public official’s negligent conduct unless it is shown that the duty breached was owed to the injured person as an individual and was not merely the breach of an obligation owed to the public in general (i.e., a duty to all is a duty to no one).”

“There are four exceptions to the public duty doctrine.” “These exceptions include the (1) failure to enforce, (2) legislative intent, (3) special relationship, and (4) rescue doctrine.” (Okay, this is me now.) The Court of Appeals held that none of the exceptions applied in this case and that therefore the County owed no duty to Weaver.

1. Failure to Enforce. — “Failure to enforce applies where governmental agents responsible for enforcing statutory requirements possess actual knowledge of a statutory violation, fail to take corrective action despite a statutory duty to do so, and the plaintiff is within the class the statute intends to protect.” “The statute must create a mandatory duty to take specific action to correct a violation.”

The Estate argued that RCW 70.96A.120(2) created such a duty. “RCW 70.96A.120(2) provides, in applicable part, that a person who appears to be incapacitated or gravely disabled by alcohol or other drugs and who is in a public place or who has threatened, attempted, or inflicted physical harm on himself, herself, or another, shall be taken into protective custody by a peace officer and as soon as practicable, but in no event beyond eight hours, brought to an approved treatment program.”

“Here, based on the undisputed facts, Deputy Melville had no knowledge of a
statutory violation under RCW 70.96A.120(2). While RCW 70.96A.120(2) would have required Deputy Melville to take Mr. Weaver into protective custody if Mr. Weaver was incapacitated or gravely disabled by alcohol, the undisputed facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom do not indicate that Mr. Weaver appeared in such a state.”

2. Legislative Intent. — “The legislative intent exception applies when the terms of a regulatory statute demonstrate a clear legislative intent to identify and protect a particular class of persons.” Regarding RCW 70.96A.120(2), “[t]he legislature clearly intended to protect and provide services for the citizens of Washington as a general class of persons.”

3. Special Relationship. — “The special relationship exception applies when (1) there is direct contact or privity between the public official and the injured plaintiff which sets the latter apart from the general public, and (2) there are express assurances given by a public official, which (3) gives rise to justifiable reliance on the part of the plaintiff.” “The plaintiff must specifically seek an express assurance and the government agent must unequivocally give that assurance.”

“Here, there is no evidence to show that Mr. Weaver specifically sought an express assurance from Deputy Melville that walking facing traffic would protect him from harm.”

4. Rescue Doctrine. — “The rescue doctrine exception creates a duty when a governmental agent undertakes a duty to aid or warn a person in danger, the government agent fails to exercise reasonable care, and the person to whom the aid is rendered relies on the offer to render aid.” “Integral to this exception is that the rescuer, including a state agent, gratuitously assumes the duty to warn the endangered parties of the danger and breaches this duty by failing to warn them.”

“The record does not support the conclusion that Deputy Melville gratuitously undertook a duty to aid or warn Mr. Weaver.”



One thought on “Daily Decisions: County Had No Duty to Protect Drunk Pedestrian

  1. Pingback: [Tuesday] Monday [Afternoon] Morning Mash-up: May 15, 2012 | Ziff Blog

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