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Delaura Norg, et al. v. City of Seattle
Case Number: 100100-2
Court: Supreme Court of Washington on appeal from the Superior Court, King County
Plaintiff's Attorney: Howard Mark Goodfriend
Defendant's Attorney: Francis Stanley Floyd, Tara Gillespie, Amber L. Pearce, Joseph Givon Groshong, Paul J. Lawrence
Description: Seattle, Washington personal injury lawyers represented Plaintiffs who sued Defendant on a governmental tort claims act negligence theory.
Delaura Norg called 911 seeking emergency medical assistance for her husband, Fred. She gave the 911 dispatcher her correct address, which the dispatcher relayed to emergency responders from the Seattle Fire Department (SFD). The Norgs’ apartment building was three blocks away from the nearest SFD station, but it took emergency responders over 15 minutes to arrive. This delay occurred because the SFD units failed to verify the Norgs’ address and, instead, went to a nearby nursing home based on the mistaken assumption that the Norgs lived there. The Norgs sued the City for negligence, alleging that SFD’s delayed response aggravated their injuries. The City pleaded the public duty doctrine as an affirmative defense and both parties moved for summary judgment on the question of duty. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in the Norgs’ favor and struck the City’s affirmative defense. The Court of Appeals affirmed on interlocutory review. We granted review and now affirm. The undisputed facts establish that once the City undertook its response to the Norgs’ 911 call, the City owed the Norgs an actionable, common law duty to use reasonable care. The Norgs’ claim is based on the City’s alleged breach of this common law duty and is therefore not subject to the public duty doctrine as a matter of law. As a result, we hold that the trial court properly granted partial summary judgment to the Norgs on the question of duty. In doing so, we express no opinion on the remaining elements of the Norgs’ claim (breach, causation, and damages).
Historically, courts in the United States applied the “rule that a State could
not be sued without its consent,” which was derived from “[t]he sovereign
immunity of the British crown.” RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 895B cmt. a
(AM. L. INST. 1979). This historical rule is “implicitly acknowledged” in the
Washington Constitution, which provides that “‘[t]he legislature shall direct by
law, in what manner, and in what courts, suits may be brought against the state.’”
Debra L. Stephens & Bryan P. Harnetiaux, The Value of Government Tort
Liability: Washington State’s Journey from Immunity to Accountability, 30
SEATTLE U. L. REV. 35, 37 (2006) (quoting CONST. art. II, § 26). A more limited
form of sovereign immunity was also extended to local government entities “when
they were performing ‘governmental functions’ similar to those performed by the
state.” Stephens & Harnetiaux, supra, at 38.
Outcome: We thus affirm the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.