Collaboration in Civic Spheres

JLARC: Tort claims costs Washington $399 million from ’04 to ’10

by July 6th, 2011

SUMMARY: According to a recent Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee preliminary report, the State of Washington spent $399 million in so-called tort claim payouts related to alleged governmental negligence between 2004 and 2010. Three state agencies — the departments of Transportation, Corrections, and Social and Health Services — accounted for 75 percent of these expenses, and the report found that the majority of these costs stemmed from the State of Washington’s increased tort liability in lawsuits against the state. In addition, the JLARC report found that the risk management process for these agencies is not always consistent with the State of Washington’s Enterprise Risk Management Strategy. As a result, JLARC recommended several practices for all three agencies, including stronger steps to address risk and report on the effects of actions taken by state employees.

BACKGROUND: The 2009-11 Operating Budget mandated the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee to conduct this study, which reviewed Washington’s risk management practices and tort payouts in cases where the state was found to be legally responsible for death or injury. Washington’s current risk management structure is the result of a 2006 task force that authorized a transition to Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), a five-step integrative approach to risk management.

KEY LINK: State Risk Management Practices in Washington: Preliminary Report, Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, June 23, 2011


  • Between 2004 and 2010, the State of Washington spent $399 million on tort payouts. This amount is linked in part to Washington’s increased tort liability, the JLARC report found.
  • The report found that the State of Washington has a “broad waiver” of sovereign immunity. This means that Washington is more liable to lawsuits than most other states, including Oregon and Idaho. In Washington, there are no discretionary immunities to low-level state employees, no procedural limitations, and no damage caps dictating the amount that may be awarded to the defendant in a case against the state.
  • Three state agencies — the departments of Transportation (WSDOT), Corrections (DOC), and Social and Health Services (DSHS) — accounted for 75 percent of tort payouts between 2004 and 2010.
  • Department of Social and Health Services: DSHS accounts for $141 million in payouts, approximately 35 percent of the total. Most of these payouts came in cases alleging the state’s failure to act against negligence or injury to a child in the state’s care, according to the report.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation: WSDOT payouts in state roadway accident cases totaled $87 million, accounting for 22 percent of the total.
  • Department of Corrections: DOC payouts totaled $73 million, or 18 percent of all payouts. On average, claims against the DOC result in the highest tort payouts, the report found. These cases mainly involve supervision of offenders.
  • In 2001, the State authorized the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to conduct up to 12 post-incident reviews annually. However, between 2003 and 2009, the OFM conducted only 10 reviews total.
  • The JLARC report found that these agencies, which conduct their own post-incident reviews, utilize some Enterprise Risk Management practices, but do not consistently apply all five ERM principles.
  • Responses from DOT, DOC, and DSHS were not included in the preliminary report. However, the report stated that agency responses will be part of a final version of the report.

One Response to “JLARC: Tort claims costs Washington $399 million from ’04 to ’10”

  1. […] Melissa Steffan reports how the Washington State legislative audit committee found the state paid $399 million in government negligence, or tort claims from 2004 through […]