In 1961, the Washington legislature waived sovereign immunity for tort actions and decided that agencies like DSHS and DOC should be liable to the people harmed by their negligence, just like a private person or corporation:
“The State of Washington, whether acting in its governmental or proprietary capacity, shall be liable for damages arising out of its tortious conduct to the same extent as if it were a private person or corporation.”
The Washington Supreme Court has recognized that this waiver is “one of the broadest waivers of sovereign immunity in the county” and makes “the State presumptively liable in all instances in which the Legislature has not indicated otherwise.”
In matters of child abuse, the State of Washington, through its Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) has a duty to protect children from sexual abuse and neglect. In cases where a child has been sexually or physically abused in a foster home or by an individual who the department knew or should have known was a danger to children, the State of Washington may be liable for the damages caused by the abuse or neglect.