Our state Supreme Court recently affirmed an appellate decision that I blogged April 22, 2008. In Clayton v. Wilson, Docket No. 81920-3, filed January 21, 2010, the Supremes held that Wilson’s marital community was liable for Wilson’s intentional torts because he committed them while conducting community business.
I laid out the sordid facts of this case in my last blog. Basically, Mr. Wilson hired the boy, Clayton, to do yardwork at his house. After completing the yardwork and before receiving payment, Mr. Wilson sexually abused him.
Immediately after Mr. Wilson’s abuse became known, Mr. and Mrs. Wilson executed a separate property agreement that transferred ownership of 90% of the Wilson’s property from community to the separate property of Ms. Wilson. The Wilson’s then got divorced.
Thus, under one reading of Washington law, Clayton was SOL. Even though he had very obvious and serious damages (he was molested some 40 times between the ages of 14 and 16), he could not get any compensation because Mr. Wilson had transferred all the marital assets to Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Wilson’s assets were untouchable, because, under Washington law, the innocent spouse is not liable for the intentional torts of the tortfeasor.
The Supreme court clarified that Washington law recognizes and exception to an exception. The innocent spouse is not liable for the intentional torts of the other spouse unless the other spouse committed them for the benefit of the community or in the management of community business.
Here, Mr. Wilson’s tort fell under the second prong. He molested the boy immediately after the boy completed his assigned yardwork. The yardwork was community business.