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Copyright (c) 1989 Washington Law Review
Washington Law Review

COMMENT: WASHINGTON'S SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP EXCEPTION TO THE PUBLIC DUTY DOCTRINE.

APRIL, 1989

64 Wash. L. Rev. 401

Author

Jenifer Kay Marcus

Excerpt

The public duty doctrine originated as a principle for limiting the potentially widespread tort liability of governmental entities that followed the abolition of governmental tort immunity. 1 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 perform 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 immunity.

The "special relationship" exception allows tort actions for negligent performance of public duties if the plaintiff can prove circumstances 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, 5 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 governmental liability in J & B Development v. King County. 7 In J & B Development, the court stated that a special relationship existed if there was direct contact between the government and the plaintiff, implicit assurances by the government, and justifiable reliance on the assurances by the plaintiff. 8 The recent cases reject liability based on implicit assurances, and ...
 
 
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