Part II: Claims for Damages

After a long hiatus, I’m back in the blogging saddle. Where I last left off was a preliminary discussion regarding Claim for Damages…

Local governments and the State must make the standard form available with instructions on how the form is to be presented, along with the name, address, and business hours of the agent authorized to receive the claim. RXCW. 4.92.100(2); RCW 4.96.020(c).

The standardized claim form developed by the state must not require disclosure of the claimant’s social security number. It also “must not” require information that is not specified in the statute. RCW 4.95.100(2). If a local governmental entity develops its own form, the form may request additional information beyond that set forth in RCW 4.96.020(3)(a), but the local governmental entity may not deny a claim because of a claimant’s failure to provide that additional information. RCW 4.96.020(3)(c)(i). As with the state’s standardized form, claim forms developed by local governmental entities “must not” require a claimant’s social security number. RCW 4.96.020(3)(c)(ii).

Although both RCW 4.92.100 and RCW 4.96.020 require the claimant to include the amount of damages claimed, the amount of damages stated on the claim form is not admissible at trial. RCW 4.92.100(c); RCW 4.96.020(3)(f). RCW 4.92.100(2) directs that “the standard tort claim form…must not require information not specified under this section.” Despite this statutory restriction, the standard tort claim form recently developed by the state appears to violate this provision by requesting a significant amount of information beyond that required by RCW 4.92.100(1)(a). (For example, the standard form asks for the “names, addresses and telephone numbers of treating medical providers” and for “copies of all medical reports and billings”, even though the statute does not require a claimant to disclose any of this information).[1] Because the standard tort claim form “must” only require information specified in RCW 4.92.100(1)(a), a claimant should object under RCW 4.92.100(2) to any items on the form that request information not specified under the statute.

Under RCW 4.96.020(3)(f), if a municipality develops its own tort claim form, the claimant has the option of choosing to file the standard tort claim form or the local tort claim form; “presenting either the standard tort claim form or the local government tort claim form satisfies the requirements of [the statute].” As explained above, if a claimant chooses to file the standard tort claim form against a local governmental entity, an objection should be made based on RCW 4.92.100(2) to any items on the standard tort claim form that request information not specified in RCW 4.96.020(3)(a).

Unlike the previous requirement, under the 2009 legislation, a claimant no longer is required to identify what was his or her residential address six months prior to the time the claim arose, stating instead only his or her actual residence at the time the claim arose. RCW 4.92.100(1)(a)(vii); RCW 4.96.020(3)(a)(vii). Another major change made by the 2009 amendments is that a claim may now be signed either by the claimant (who must also verify the claim), by the claimant’s attorney-in-fact under a power of attorney, by an attorney licensed to practice in Washington, or by a court-approved guardian or guardian ad litem on behalf of the claimant. RCW 4.92.100(1)(b); RCW 4.96.020(3)(b).

A claim against a local governmental entity is deemed presented when the form is delivered in person or received by the agent by regular mail, registered mail or certified mail, with return receipt requested. RCW 4.96.020(2). Similarly, for claims against the State, presentation of the claim is accomplished by service upon the agent or by registered mail. RCW 4.92.100(1).

When presenting a claim to a local governmental entity, practitioners should be careful to file the claim with the proper local agent. As indicated above, RCW 4.92.020(2) requires the governing body of each local  governmental entity to appoint an agent to receive claims for damages. The identity of the agent and the address where he or she may be reached during the normal business hours of the local governmental entity by law must be recorded with the auditor of the county in which the entity is located.

The 2009 amendments also clarify that for claims against local governments, if a claim form provided by a governmental entity fails to request the information specified in the statute or incorrectly lists the agent to whom the claim is to be filed, the local government is deemed to have waived any defense related to the failure to provide that specific information or to file with the proper agent. RCW 4.96.020(3)(d).

[1] Additional information requested on the standard tort claim form but not required by the statute includes: the names, addresses and phone numbers of all state employees having knowledge of the incident; a list of all witnesses on liability and damages and a description of the knowledge of each; and a list of documents that support the allegations of the claim. The standard tort claim form also must be signed under penalty of perjury, which again is not required by the statute.