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Statute Adopting Several Liability in Tort Actions Does Not Apply to Contractual Indemnification Actions

Posted in Washington

Moen Co. v. Island Steel, 128 Wash. 2d 745, 912 P.2d 472 (1996)

Here, a general contractor, Moen, who had settled with an employee of the subcontractor, Island, injured in an accident at a construction worksite sought contractual indemnification from the subcontractor pursuant to RCW 4.24.115.  The principle issues in this case were:  (1) whether the contractor could enforce its indemnification agreement in which the subcontractor waived its employer immunity under RCW Title 51 and which purports to shift liability to the extent of the subcontractor’s negligence (despite RCW 4.22.070 which adopts several liability in tort cases), and (2) to what extent the subcontractor was liable to contractor, if at all.

King County Superior Court granted summary judgment to the subcontractor, who appealed.  The court of appeals reversed in part and remanded in part, and review was granted.  The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that the indemnification agreement in the contract was valid and enforceable insofar as the subcontractor’s negligence caused the employee’s injuries.  The court further held that RCW 4.24.115, which allows indemnity agreements in construction contracts, controls over RCW 4.22.070, which abolishes joint and several liability for concurrent negligence.