Close Racist Loophole in Wrongful Death Law

Emmanuel Huybrechts

Target: Frank Chopp, Speaker of the Washington House of Representatives

Goal: Pass legislation to correct a racist and out-of-date loophole in Washington state law.

Non-resident parents cannot collect money in damages when their children are killed on American soil due to an antiquated Washington State law. Sign the petition and urge state legislators to correct this huge loophole.

Haram Kim was only 20 years old when she was killed in a crash involving a duck tour vehicle and a bus. She was from South Korea and was studying at North Seattle College. Her parents, who still reside in South Korea, were able to fly to Seattle and be with their daughter before she passed away. However, they are unable to claim any damages from the company responsible for their daughter’s death simply because they do not live within the United States.

The law, which has been challenged repeatedly for years, was passed in 1909 during a high point of both Asian immigration and anti-Asian sentiment on the West coast. In fact, it overrode a 1909 court ruling that upheld non-resident parents’ rights to collect damages on their deceased children’s behalf. In its original ruling, the Court stated that “we cannot think that workmen were intended to be less protected if their mothers happen to live abroad.”

Attempts to change the law in more recent years have been thwarted again and again, largely because municipalities and businesses fear it would open them up to more legal liability. However, a human life is more important than company costs, and businesses that want to avoid paying money in damages ought to prioritize safety rather than hiding behind outdated legislation. Sign the petition and demand that lawmakers address this out-of-date, nativist law.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Speaker,

I am writing to urge you to close a loophole in Washington State law that prevents non-resident parents for claiming damages when their son or daughter dies as the result of an accident in the United States. This law is a reflection of a more nativist, racist time in Washington’s past and has no place in modern legislation.

Haram Kim was only 20 years old when she was killed in a crash between a duck tour vehicle and a bus. However, her parents–who flew from South Korea to be with their daughter just before she passed away–are not able to claim any damages from the company since they do not live in the United States.

Imagine the expense involved in flying halfway across the world to see your dying child–the last-minute plane tickets, the hotel costs, and the missed work, to say nothing of the emotional trauma and mental exhaustion. Now imagine that the company responsible for this tragedy–and for the deaths of four other people–has invoked an old law rooted in racism to justify not paying any damages to you beyond medical costs, burial costs, and “a nominal amount representing the estate.” The U.S.-born parents of the victims can claim damages, but international parents, like the Kims, cannot.

The law’s injustice is blatant even before you know its history, but it becomes even more egregious once its origins are examined. It was put in place to overrule a court ruling in 1909 about an incident in which a dock worker was killed, his employer balked at paying damages, and the court disagreed with the company, saying, “We cannot think that workmen were intended to be less protected if their mothers happen to live abroad.” The law was implemented not long after, appalling but unsurprising in a time of intense anti-Asian and anti-immigration sentiment.

Washington State is home to many large corporations that employ international workers. This law affects them and their families and should be addressed immediately. I urge you to pass legislation closing the loopholes in this law and giving all parents the same legal rights upon their children’s death.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Herer]

Photo credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts

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