Facts: Audrey Blessing, who had three children from a previous marriage, married Carl Blaschka, who had four children of his own from a previous marriage, in 1964. The couple raised all seven children together, although Blessing never legally adopted Blaschka’s children, and remained married until Blaschka’s death in 1994. After Blessing died in an automobile accident, Blessing’s daughter Cynthia Hagensen, the personal representative of Blessing’s estate, filed a wrongful death action against the driver who caused the accident in the Superior Court for Spokane County. Blaschka’s son John Blaschka and his siblings Julie Frank, Diana Estrep, and Carla Blaschka subsequently petitioned the superior court for a determination that they are entitled to participate as statutory beneficiaries in the wrongful death action. Hagensen moved to dismiss the petition on grounds that the Blaschka children were not Blessing’s stepchildren under Washington Revised Code §4.20.020 and therefore are not entitled to recover under the wrongful death statute. The superior court denied the motion. Upon appeal, the Washington Court of Appeals reversed. Blaschka appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Washington.
Question(s): Are the children of a decedent’s predeceased spouse the decedent’s stepchildren under §4.20.020 and therefore entitled to recover under the wrongful death statute?
Conclusion: Justice Charles W. Johnson’s opinion for a unanimous Court reversed the Washington Court of Appeals, concluding that a step relationship does not automatically terminate when the marriage that brought it into existence ends and that the Blaschka children therefore did not automatically lose their status as Blessing’s stepchildren as a result of their father’s death.
Petitioner: John Blaschka
(Counsel: Jack L. Blair and Daniel Edward Huntington)
Respondent: Cynthia Hagensen
(Counsel: Steven W. Hughes)
Argument: Tuesday, January 17, 2012 2:30pm
[Source: TVW, http://tvw.org]
Audio: Court of Appeals Division III
Audio: Washington Supreme Court
Decided: Thursday, April 5th, 2012
Prevailing Party: John Blaschka (Petitioner)
Court: Madsen3 Court (2012)
Note: We post only slip opinion(s) as published at the time of the decision. Please consult Washington Reports printed volumes for the opinion(s) in their final form. Each opinion should appear next to the Justice who authored it.