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                                 SENATE BILL 5531



State of Washington              52nd Legislature             1991 Regular Session


By Senators Nelson and Rasmussen; by request of Dept. of Social & Health Services.


Read first time February 5, 1991.  Referred to Committee on Law & Justice.Limiting public agency liability for mental illness cases.

     AN ACT Relating to tort liability for professionals employed in psychiatric facilities; amending RCW 71.05.120; and creating a new section.




     NEW SECTION.  Sec. 1.  The legislature intends to reduce the escalating cost of civil tort claims while ensuring that the general interest and safety of the public are being served.

     The legislature specifically recognizes that state and local governments face increasing risk of exposure in the area of mental health and intends to reduce and control this exposure by providing public agencies with limited immunity for discretionary acts and decisions occurring in the performance of these duties.

     The legislature also recognizes that because the distinction between negligence and gross negligence is unclear, many claims currently filed against public entities are going to trial.


     Sec. 2.  RCW 71.05.120 and 1989 c 120 s 3 are each amended to read as follows:

     (1) No officer of a public or private agency, nor the superintendent, professional person in charge, his or her professional designee, or attending staff of any such agency, nor any public official performing functions necessary to the administration of this chapter, nor peace officer responsible for detaining a person pursuant to this chapter, nor any county designated mental health professional, nor the state, a unit of local government, or an evaluation and treatment facility shall be civilly or criminally liable for performing duties pursuant to this chapter with regard to the decision of whether to admit, release, administer antipsychotic medications on an emergency basis, or detain a person for evaluation and treatment:  PROVIDED, That such duties were performed in good faith ((and without gross negligence)).

     (2) This section does not relieve a person from giving the required notices under RCW 71.05.330(2) or 71.05.340(1)(b), or the duty to warn or to take reasonable precautions to provide protection from violent behavior where the patient has communicated an actual threat of physical violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims.  The duty to warn or to take reasonable precautions to provide protection from violent behavior is discharged if reasonable efforts are made to communicate the threat to the victim or victims and to law enforcement personnel.