The Washington Supreme Court holds that when the state is sued in tort, it has the right to a jury

Maziar v. Wash. State Dep’t of Corr., No. 90377-8 (Wash. Apr. 30, 2015).

In the early 1960s, the state of Washington decided that it would be bound by the same rules that apply to its citizens, and so waived its sovereign immunity in tort. The state is now “liable for damages arising out of its tortious conduct to the same extent as if it were a private person or corporation.” When the state is sued in tort, does it have a right to demand a jury trial? That’s the question the Washington Supreme Court addressed today. 

Washington law provides that actions against the state “shall proceed in all respects as other actions.” And in other tort actions for damages, Washington law provides that “any party” has the right to a jury. 

From these statutory provisions, the court’s decision flows logically. The procedures that govern a tort action for damages against the state are the same as those that govern other tort actions for damages (except if the law explicitly provides otherwise). In a tort action for damages, Washington law provides that any party can demand a jury. It follows that in a tort action for damages, the state can demand a jury. Despite what Oliver Wendell Holmes said about logic and the law, at least this case can be decided by logic alone.