The Washington State Supreme Court

A Historical Perspective

As Provided by WA Representative Matt Manweller

Only two of the four Washington Supreme Court seats had challengers (SC 4 and SC 7) in the last election. Physicians Insurance recently had the opportunity to sit down with Representative Matt Manweller (R-13) to discuss the value and importance of engaging in Supreme Court elections.

“Over the past 20 years, health care practitioners have achieved significant improvements in the tort environment only to see those victories halted by the Washington State Supreme Court. The first, in 1986, placed caps on noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases. The second, in 2005, required medical experts to certify there was a reasonable basis for a claim before moving to trial, established a 90-day cool down provision to give 


participants a chance to work issues out, and created a statute of limitations provision as applied to minors,” noted Representative Manweller.

The Washington State Legislature passed these provisions with bipartisan support. To date, all of those provisions have been struck down by the Washington Supreme Court. Manweller believes to achieve meaningful reform and improve effectiveness in Washington State, government relations programs need to engage and enhance the focus to the Supreme Court.

Manweller further stated, “In the 1989 Sophie case, the Court eliminated the cap on noneconomic damaged by arguing it violated your rights to a trial by jury. In 2009, the Putman ruling struck down the certificate of merit provision, reasoning that because the Legislature adopted a law that conflicted with the internal rules of the Court, the Legislature had violated the separation of powers doctrine. A year later, in the Waples case, the Court used the exact same reasoning to eliminate the 90-day cool down provision. And finally, in 2014, the Court invalidated the statute of limitations provision for minors in medical malpractice suits on the argument that any privilege given to one class of people cannot be denied to anyone else.”

Monitoring the activities of the Supreme Court, much like a legislative voting record, Physicians Insurance engages in judicial elections as a valuable and effective component of our government relations program. The company also sits on the Board of Directors of the Washington and Oregon Liability Reform Coalitions. Each year, the Washington Liability Reform Coalition publishes a Judicial Scorecard (visit

In addition, Physicians Insurance seeks opportunities to create a political environment in all areas of government (including the court) that respond to and promote negotiated results with a balanced, fair approach to issues of interest to our members and their patients.

As we begin the 2015–2016 biennium sessions and work in close cooperation with organizations that pursue similar goals in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and the nation’s capital, we carry the concerns of our members and their patients, ensuring they are heard by lawmakers at both the legislative and judicial levels. Engaging with the Supreme Court is just one way we demonstrate our commitment to being a strong advocate in all areas of effectiveness in our states and across the nation.


For more information on the government relations and community outreach program, please visit our website at or contact Anne E. Bryant, Senior Director of Government Relations at