64 Wash. L. Rev. 401 (1989)
Washington's Special Relationship Exception to the Public Duty Doctrine

handle is hein.journals/washlr64 and id is 413 raw text is: Copyright Q 1989 by Washington Law Review Association

Abstract: The public duty doctrine states that in order for a person to recover tort
damages from a governmental entity, the individual must prove that the governmental
entity breached a duty owed to him or her particularly, and not just a breach of a duty
owed to the public. The special relationship exception to the doctrine provides a mech-
anism for proving a particularized duty. The Washington Supreme Court has now
restricted this exception. By restricting the exception, the court may inappropriately bar
certain injured plaintiffs from recovery. The restriction may also violate Washington stat-
utes abrogating governmental immunity by giving government defendants treatment not
afforded private defendants. This Comment analyzes the new exception in light of a tradi-
tional tort duty analysis. The Comment concludes that a traditional tort duty analysis
provides a better framework for assessing governmental duty in negligence actions.
The public duty doctrine originated as a principle for limiting the
potentially widespread tort liability of governmental entities that fol-
lowed the abolition of governmental tort immunity.I Under the public
duty doctrine, governmental entities owe the public a general duty to
perform   their offices, but a particularized duty to no one person.2       A
governmental entity cannot be liable to a private party for failure to
per orm duties owed solely to the general public. Exceptions to the
public duty doctrine recognize affirmative duties to certain persons,
preventing the doctrine from granting complete governmental
The special relationship exception allows tort actions for negli-
gent performance of public duties if the plaintiff can prove circum-
stances setting his or her relationship with the government apart from
that of the general public.3 The scope of this exception has been a
subject of continuing litigation in Washington.
In 1988 the Washington Supreme Court decided three cases, Taylor
v. Stevens County,4 Honcoop v. State,' and Meaney v. Dodd,6 which
modified the special relationship exception to the public duty doctrine.
These decisions curtailed the court's previous expansion of govern-
1. Governmental entity refers to both state and municipal governments.
2. The public duty doctrine appeared in the United States as early as 1856. South v.
Maryland, 59 U.S. (18 How.) 396 (1856) (sheriff not liable for standing by while plaintiff was
3. Taylor v. Stevens County, 111 Wash. 2d 159, 166, 759 P.2d 447, 451 (1988).
4. 111 Wash. 2d 159, 759 P.2d 447 (1988).
5. 111 Wash. 2d 182, 759 P.2d 1188 (1988).
6. 111 Wash. 2d 174, 759 P.2d 455 (1988).

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