90 Day Presuit Notice Requirements Do Not Violate Equal Protection

Notice

McDevitt v. Harborview Medical Center, No. 85367-3 (Nov. 14, 2013)

 

Glen McDevitt had a paragliding accident that required surgery at Harborview Medical Center, a King County public hospital.  He alleges he was taken off anticoagulant medication after surgery and sued for damages.  Harborview moved for summary judgment based on the undisputed fact that McDevitt failed to comply with the 90 day presuit notice requirement of former RCW 7.70.100(1) for all medical malpractice suits.  McDevitt argued that Waples v. Yi, 169 Wn.2d 152, 161, 234 P.3d 187 (2010) invalidated the presuit notice requirement against both private and public defendants.  Harborview replied that Waples did not consider the constitutional validity of the presuit notice requirement as applied to lawsuits against the state.  King County Superior Court denied the motion for summary judgment.

The Washington Supreme Court accepted discretionary review and clarified its holding in Waples and held the following:

  • The 90 day presuit notice requirement of former RCW 7.70.100(1) as applied to the State is a constitutional application of law under article II, section 26 of the Washington Constitution.
    • The requirement of a 90 day presuit notice does not truncate the statute of limitations period.
  • The 90 day presuit notice requirement of former RCW 7.70.100(1) is not a violation of equal protection.
    • The WA Supreme Court has consistently held presuit notification requirements to state defendants are not impermissibly discriminate between governmental and nongovernmental defendants because
      •  “plaintiffs suing state defendants” is not a classification of citizens that infringes on a fundamental right;
      •  it does not create a suspect classification; and
      • it is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.
        • The government has a legitimate interest in running smoothly.
        • A presuit notice is rationally related because the complexities of state operations involving a multitude of departments, agencies, officers, employees, and activities, that touch virtually every aspect of life within the state, require budgeting and allocating funds.  Often, the State receives a quantification of claims against each government agency and allocates funds for recovery of these claims based on the likelihood of recovery in each action.  The 90 day presuit notification requirement allows the State to make an accurate and timely allocation based on pending claims and use unspent funds for budgeting in other areas of state operations.
  • Its decision in Waples was an as-applied invalidation of former RCW 7.70.100(1). In order to avoid a substantially inequitable result, we give these holdings prospective-only application.
    • In McDevitt’s case the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment because the Supreme Court clarified Waples in a way he could not have foreseen.

In the end, it was good news for McDevitt, but do not rely on Waples in the future if the State is the defendant.

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