Washington Bail Bondsmen Face Liability Threat

By Tom Bacon

WashingtonStatebail bondsmen have been put on notice that if they hire aggressive, macho bounty hunters to run down fugitives, they may wind up being liable for damages. 

By a six-to-three majority, Washington State Supreme Court justices ruled that Pierce county bail bondsman C-J Johnson may have to answer for serious injuries to Larry Stout who had skipped out on a 50-thousand dollar bond posted by Johnson.

Stout was wanted for cooking and selling methamphetamine.

To avoid forfeiting his money, Johnson hired bounty hunter Carl Warren who lay in wait for Stout on a gravel road near his trailer. When Stout drove by, Warren chased him at high speed, eventually smashing into the rear  of Stout's car and sending it hurtling into a tree. Stout had to be extricated from the wreckage and had one leg amputated as a result.

Two lower Washington courts held that Stout could not collect damages from Johnson under the legal theory of vicarious liability. That means that Johnson was not responsible for the bounty hunter's aggressive attempt to collar Stout.

But the high court justices overturned those rulings, saying that fugitive apprehension carries with it a "peculiar risk of physical harm."

The three dissenters scoffed at the reasoning. In their view. Stout was responsible for setting the bounty hunter loose in the first place, since he refused to show up in court. Rather than being a victim, the minority said, Stout was the perpetrator of the peculiar ris
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