It is becoming painfully obvious that some of Washington’s political leaders think that they should be held to the same standard as Kings and Queens of Europe when it comes to the civil justice system. That is, immune from civil liability.
There has been a recent push by Washington’s political leaders to restore the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Generally speaking, sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine based on the idea that the government can do no wrong. The doctrine arose from early English law that relieved the Crown from any liability arising from its actions. In Europe, the doctrine is generally referred to as “Crown Immunity” and still persists in modern Europe. For example, the Belgium Constitution states: “The King’s person is inviolable; his ministers are accountable.” Denmark has a similar provision in its Constitution: “The King shall not be answerable for his actions; his person shall be sacrosanct. The Ministers shall be responsible for the conduct of the government; their responsibility shall be determined by Statute.” In Norway, the King’s “person is sacred; he cannot be censured or accused. The responsibility rests with his Council.” These provisions are based on the belief that kings or queens are sacred and divine.
Fortunately, the Federal Government and Washington State abolished sovereign immunity years ago as being contrary to our beliefs and history. As eloquently stated by Jesse Magaña and Jenny Wieland in the Columbian,
[t]he principle that government must be accountable legally for the harm it directly causes to its citizens is a fundamental principle of our revolutionary history and the American republic. Sovereign immunity literally is a creature of English kings, meaning, “The king can do no wrong.”
The natural consequence of sovereign immunity is that a victim of the State’s negligence has no recourse in a civil court. If State employee A is driving a State owned car on an errand for the State, and hits B, causing catastrophic injuries, then sovereign immunity prevents B from seeking compensation for his or her personal injuries from the State.
Proponents of sovereign immunity do not address the history or consequences of the doctrine, but instead, try to draw attention to the “abusive lawsuit” boogeyman. Their claim, if I’ve followed it correctly, is that Washington State is being buried under frivolous lawsuits brought on by rich trial lawyers. But, this assertion ignores the fact that any large verdict against the Government was rendered by a jury, and not by a rich trial lawyer. Furthermore, one has to question the competency of the Washington Attorney General’s office if it is throwing large sums of money at rich trial lawyers to settle frivolous lawsuits. However, the fact of the matter is that the Washington Attorney General’s office has some of the best lawyers in the State who are more than capable of weeding out frivolous lawsuits in a timely and inexpensive manner. The “abusive lawsuit” boogeyman is simply a myth to persuade the voters to ignore the consequences of sovereign immunity.
I truly believe that our State’s government does good and important work. But it is not divine. Under no circumstances should we allow the State to be treated like a king or queen in a court of law. Our country has come too far to regress to the thinking and beliefs of Old England.
- Plan aims to cut state legal costs (theolympian.com)
- Spokane Personal Injury-Damages, What Can A Victim Expect To Recover? (spokanepersonalinjuryattorney.wordpress.com)
- Judge allows Va. Tech shooting lawsuit to advance (sfgate.com)