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Washington State DSHS Lawsuits

When people are in the care of a state agency such as the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), it is the responsibility of its employees to ensure their safety. Unfortunately, too often DSHS fails in this duty, and the result can be abuse, neglect, injury or death. In such instances, a Washington State DSHS lawsuit may be an appropriate action to take.

The Washington DSHS was formed with good intentions — to care for people. Historically, that has included:

  • Children and adolescents
  • Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals
  • People with disabilities
  • The elderly

Unfortunately, bad things happen despite the best intentions. When things go wrong, the state should be held responsible and provide resources to help people recover and heal from their injuries and trauma.

At PCVA, we help people file lawsuits against the Washington DSHS and other negligent agencies if they have suffered harm while under state supervision.

This is a comprehensive guide to Washington State DSHS lawsuits, but it may not be exhaustive. If you or your loved ones experienced physical, psychological or emotional harm while under the care of DSHS or another Washington government agency, reach out to the experienced DSHS lawyers at PCVA to discuss your potential case.

What is the Washington State DSHS?

The DSHS is a government agency comprising six departments that cater to various populations, including people with disabilities, people recovering from addiction, people with low incomes, incarcerated people, the elderly and others. The department employs over 15,000 people, and its budget is billions of dollars.

These are the agency’s departments:

  • Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA)
  • Behavioral Health Administration (BHA)
  • Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA)
  • Division of Vocational Rehabilitation
  • Economic Services Administration (ESA)
  • Facilities, Finance and Analytics Administration (FFA)

Prior to 2018, DSHS also served children, including adoption and foster care, through the Children’s Administration. In 2018, the Children’s Administration was spun off to form the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

In addition, the Washington DSHS Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery moved to the Health Care Authority and Department of Health.

What is the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families?

The Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families took over many of the DSHS Children’s Administration functions prior to its spinoff in 2018. Its responsibilities include:

  • Adoption
  • Foster care
  • Early learning and childcare
  • Child development support
  • Child protective services

I suffered abuse or neglect while in foster care in Washington State. Can I sue?

Tragically, many people who have been under the care of state agencies as children through adoption, foster care or educational services have fallen victim to abuse or neglect.

The state has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits for people who, as children, suffered rape, abuse, violence and neglect. Groundbreaking legal work by tireless advocates has documented egregious treatment that children have endured, such as sexual abuse and sexual assault, violence, and chronic instability in being moved repeatedly from home to home.

For example, in late 2022 the state settled a 24-year-old lawsuit that was filed on behalf of a dozen children who were moved to many different homes. In one instance, a child was placed in 20 homes in less than three years, all before the age of 5.

The Washington State Supreme Court has established that state agencies are legally obligated to ensure the safety of children under their care. Those who suffered harm while under the care of the Washington DSHS or DCYF may be entitled to monetary compensation to help support treatment and recovery from physical injuries and psychological and emotional trauma.

The same principles apply to other people who suffered injuries, abuse or neglect while under the DSHS’ care, including incarcerated and emancipated individuals, those with disabilities and the elderly.

What are the legal grounds for a Washington DSHS lawsuit and a Washington DCYF lawsuit?

The legal grounds for winning a lawsuit against the Washington DSHS and DCYF usually involves neglect. People often, and tragically, are harmed because someone failed to properly do their job. A state agency’s negligence can include:

  • Improper vetting — failure to properly investigate foster parents or the backgrounds of employees.
  • Inaction — failure to contact police or investigate credible reports, red flags and warnings of danger.
  • Inadequate care — systemic neglect of people’s basic needs, including food, sanitary conditions and medical care.

The attorneys at PCVA have decades of experience conducting investigations into Washington State agencies, and we have uncovered shocking evidence of negligence. To date, we have recovered tens of millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts from the state for our clients.

What is the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit against the Washington DSHS or DCYF?

The Washington State statute of limitations for injury is three years, but the time limit is different for child sexual abuse.

For example, if an elderly person experiences neglect, deprivation or injury while under the care of the DSHS, they or their loved ones would have three years to file a lawsuit from when the incident occurred.

However, for victims under the age of 18, there is no statute of limitations.

Washington State gives adults over the age of 18 three years to file a civil childhood sexual abuse action from:

  • The time of the act itself;
  • The time the victim discovered that an injury or condition was caused by the act; or
  • The time the victim discovered that the act caused the injury.

This means that in Washington State, you can sue for childhood sexual abuse many years, or even decades, after the abuse occurred. The clock starts running from the moment a survivor connects the injury to the abuse.

This is important, since many people who experience sexual abuse in childhood may experience long-term or even lifelong physical, psychological and emotional problems and not connect them to abuse. In fact, some children repress memories of childhood sexual abuse — which can come back as flashbacks much later in life.

The effects of sexual violence can include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dissociation
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance abuse
  • Disordered sleep
  • Sexual dysfunction

Many abusers groom their victims or disguise their abuse as something else, such as play or medical treatment. There is no way to predict how or when survivors of trauma will make the connection between abuse and the injuries it caused.

How much does PCVA charge to file a Washington DSHS lawsuit?

Our work is done on a contingency basis. This means that you do not pay us on an hourly basis, and we advance the costs of litigation. If we help you resolve your case, we receive a percentage of the amount you receive and you reimburse us for the costs we advanced on your behalf.

If you experienced harm while under the care of the Washington State DSHS or DCYF, our attorneys are here to listen and help. Schedule a no-obligation consultation with one of our lawyers by completing our online form or by calling us at (253) 777-0799 or (206) 462-4334.

What are some examples of Washington State DSHS lawsuits PCVA has filed?

See below to learn about just some of the cases we’ve won against Washington DSHS on behalf of our clients:

$3.1M settlement reached with DSHS for a foster child placed with a convicted rapist
$2.5M settlement reached with DSHS for a woman abused by foster parents who was a convicted sex offender
$2.1M settlement reached with DSHS on behalf of a father of a 3-year-old boy who was killed by the mother’s boyfriend, who was a chronic child abuser
$1.35M settlement reached with DSHS over foster care abuse