Donatelli v. D.R. Strong Consulting Engineers, Inc. [Wash. Sup. Ct. No. 86590-6]
A five justice majority in this case continued to develop the “independent duty doctrine” in Washington. That doctrine has superseded the “economic loss rule,” which previously limited recovery of economic damages to contract claims and recovery of non-economic damages to tort claims. According to the majority opinion, described in greater length below, a contracting party can have a duty in tort to another contracting party if and only if the duty is independent of the agreement. If the contract is unclear, then it must be interpreted by a trier of fact before dismissal based on the independent duty doctrine is proper. As explained by the four-justice dissent, this analysis is unnecessary to the independent duty doctrine, cannot be harmonized with the parties’ agreement, and is not supported by settled principles of contract law. Consistent with those legal principles, the dissent would limit the plaintiff to contract damages where, as here, the parties’ agreement encompasses the risk of harm that is claimed.
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