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Washington State’s RCW 4.24.420 presents a unique aspect of law concerning personal injury and wrongful death claims. This statute offers an interesting intersection of criminal activity and civil liability, particularly in cases involving law enforcement. Let’s delve into the specifics of this law and its implications.

Overview of RCW 4.24.420

RCW 4.24.420 is a Washington State law that provides a defense in cases of personal injury or wrongful death where the victim was engaged in a felony. This law has three main parts:

  1. General Defense in Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims: If a person is injured or killed while committing a felony, and the felony is a proximate cause of the injury or death, this can be a complete defense in a civil lawsuit for damages.
  2. Specific Application in Law Enforcement Cases: In cases where law enforcement activities lead to personal injury or death, the defense can still apply. However, the law requires a higher standard of proof. The defendant must demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the injured or deceased was committing a felony which directly contributed to their injury or death.
  3. Preservation of Federal Claims: Importantly, RCW 4.24.420 does not impede any action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, which allows individuals to sue state and local officials for violations of federal rights.

1. Balancing Civil Rights and Criminal Accountability:

  • The law attempts to balance the rights of individuals against the consequences of criminal behavior. It recognizes that while criminal activities should not be a basis for financial gain through civil suits, the rights of individuals, especially in interactions with law enforcement, need protection.

2. Higher Standard in Law Enforcement Cases:

  • The requirement of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” in law enforcement cases underscores the seriousness with which such cases are treated. It ensures that the defense is not misused to shield law enforcement from accountability in cases of excessive force or wrongful actions.

3. Impact on Civil Lawsuits:

  • This statute can significantly impact civil lawsuits for personal injury or wrongful death. Defendants can use it to avoid liability if they can prove the victim’s involvement in a felony that directly caused their injury or death.

4. Implications for Law Enforcement:

  • For law enforcement, this law provides a layer of protection in situations where their actions result in harm to individuals committing felonies. However, it also places a high burden of proof on them in such cases.

The Role of Federal Claims

The preservation of rights under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 is a crucial aspect of RCW 4.24.420. This federal statute is a vital tool for addressing violations of constitutional rights, particularly in cases of police misconduct. By explicitly stating that RCW 4.24.420 does not affect actions under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, the law ensures that individuals still have a pathway to seek redress for violations of their federal rights, regardless of their involvement in criminal activities.


RCW 4.24.420 presents a nuanced approach to dealing with personal injury and wrongful death claims involving individuals engaged in felonies. It balances the need to hold individuals accountable for their criminal actions with the necessity of protecting civil rights, particularly in the context of law enforcement. Understanding this law is crucial for legal practitioners, law enforcement officers, and citizens alike, as it shapes the landscape of civil liability in the state of Washington.

You can Read the Text of RCW 4.24.420 here:

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About Blanford Law:

We are no-nonsense, relentless, fair, and honest. We are great listeners instead of fast talkers, that is just who we are. More than 20 years ago, Ken began practicing law with a deeply-seeded belief that every person has the right to the best legal representation available. He built his law firm on that belief. Another belief that he strongly adheres to is his fundamental belief that clients deserve respect, with no assumptions or preconceived notions.  If you or someone you know is accused of a crime or injured as a result of the negligence of another, please have them call us at 253-720-9304 or email us