Commission of a Felony – A Complete Defense to a Personal Injury Claim

Posted Thursday, January 12, 2017 by Ed Harper

Commission of a Felony – A Complete Defense to a Personal Injury Claim

“It is a defense to any action/claim for damages that the person injured/killed was then engaged in the commission of a felony, if the felony was the proximate cause of the injury/death.” (WPI 16.01)

RCW 4.24.420 states that it is a complete defense to any action for damages for personal injury or wrongful death that the person injured or killed was engaged in the commission of a felony at the time of the occurrence causing the injury or death in the felony was the proximate cause of the injury or death. However, nothing in this section shall affect the right of action. (Under 42 USC section 1983)

In the case, Leavy, Taber, Schultz and Bergdahl v Met Life Ins. Co. 20 Wn. App. 503, 581 P.2d 167 (1978), the court analyzed whether a conviction for a felony is required to assert this defense.

John Crudup up was a contractor in the Walla Walla area of Washington. He was killed after a fight with his second wife Zadie Crudup. He was shot at close range. Prior to his passing, he purchased life insurance with Metropolitan life insurance company. In the underlying criminal case Zadie Crudup was charged with murder. The jury was instructed that manslaughter was a lesser included offense. She was convicted of manslaughter which is the killing of a human being by a person without a design or intent to affect the death of the person killed which act is not excusable or justifiable.

This conviction was upheld on appeal, State v. Crudup, 11 Wn.App. 583, 520 P.2d 479. Zadie Crudup was convicted of manslaughter in the death of John accrued up, in an underlying criminal case.In this case, Leavy v. Metropolitan Life the law firm Leavy et al. was suing to acquire property on behalf of Zadie Crudup. Mrs. Crudup claimed she suffered damages due to the death of her husband. The claim was for the life insurance policy.

In Leavy, the court denied this by utilizing the Slayers’ Statute RCW 11.84, which states no slayer shall acquire any property or benefit as a result of the death of the decedent. (RCW 11.84.020)

As this is a civil case and proof need only be by the preponderance of evidence. (Leavy at 507) A criminal conviction is not a sine qua non (an essential element) in a personal injury application of the Slayers act. See Young v. Seattle, 25 Wn.2d 888, 170 P.2d 222 (1946). So in conclusion, one can successfully defend a claim for damages utilizing the commission of a felony even though a conviction was never obtained.

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