Tuesday, August 8, 2006

DSHS Risk Manager

Today's Seattle Times has an obituary of Bernie Friedman, who was the risk manager for the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), "the state's most-sued agency." Lawyer helped state stem losses from DSHS suits, Seattle Times, Aug. 8, 2006.

Mr. Friedman had a varied career, serving in the Air Force as a meteorologist, working for a large firm, losing his job, starting a small firm with Phil Talmadge, working as a law clerk for Talmadge when he was on the Washington Supreme Court, and, finally, working at DSHS.

In 2003, Mr. Friedman insisted on defending at trial the case filed by Said Aba Sheikh, a teenaged Somali refugee who was beaten into a coma by four youths, including two living in a home where they were placed by DSHS. (One was in foster care; the other was in a dependency guardianship). The state lost, and the plaintiff was awarded a judgment of over $10 million. But this year the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding that the state owes no duty to persons harmed by torious acts of dependent children. Aba Sheikh v. Choe, 156 Wash. 2d 441, 128 P.3d 574 (Feb. 16, 2006) (Owens, J.) Findlaw links: majority, concurrence, dissent.

Justice Chambers, in his concurrence, emphasized that the state could still be liable for its own negligence -- just not the torts of the children. Justice Sanders, dissenting, said that the state has a duty to place foster children with foster parents capable of controlling them. He emphasized facts in this case -- that the state knew of the boys' criminal records and gang activity, that it did not tell the foster mother, and that she had asked DSHS to place the boys elsewhere before the attack.

See also:

UW note: The obituary quotes Trial Ad instructor Bill Bailey, who praised Friedman's "unerring moral compass."

Update (Jan. 15, 2007): The Washington State Bar Association posthumously awarded Mr. Friedman its Local Hero award. Press release, Jan. 11, 2007.

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