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AGLO 1975 No. 31 - March 19, 1975
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- WATER ‑- BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS ‑- INSURANCE ‑- LIABILITY INSURANCE FOR WATER DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS

Under RCW 57.08.105, the board of commissioners of a water district is authorized to purchase liability insurance to protect its own members against liability for personal or bodily injuries and property damage arising from their acts or omissions while performing or in good faith purporting to perform their official duties.

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                                                                  March 19, 1975

Honorable Ray Van Hollebeke
State Senator, First District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1975 No. 31

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have asked for our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Under RCW 57.08.105, is the board of commissioners of a water district authorized to purchase liability insurance to protect its own members against liability for personal or bodily injuries and property damage arising from their acts or omissions while performing or in good faith purporting to perform their official duties?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 57.08.105 originated as § 7, chapter 125, Laws of 1973.  The full text of this new law reads as follows:

            "The board of water commissioners of each water district may purchase liability insurance with such limits as they may deem reasonable for the purpose of protecting their officials and employees against liability for personal or bodily injuries and property damage arising from their acts or ommissions while performing or in good faith purporting to perform their official duties."

            The issue raised is whether the phrase "their officials" must be taken to mean only those officials other than the members of the board of water district commissioners themselves.  In our judgment, the statute is not to be so read.

            We note that RCW 57.08.105 is only one of several  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] statutes which were enacted by chapter 125,supra, to provide similar authority to a number of different types of municipalities or taxing districts.  In addition to water districts, the act applies to school districts (§ 1), cities and towns (§ 2), fire protection districts (§ 3), port districts (§ 4), public utility districts (§ 5), sewer districts (§ 6), and irrigation districts (§ 8).

            The terminology of § 2, relating to cities and towns, is particularly interesting.  This section reads as follows:

            "Each city or town may purchase liability insurance with such limits as it may deem reasonable for the purpose of protecting its officials and employees against liability for personal or bodily injuries and property damage arising from their acts or omissions while performing or in good faith purporting to perform their official duties."

            Unquestionably this section authorizes a city or town to purchase liability insurance for any of its officials or employees, including the members of its legislative authority or other governing body.  Although § 7,supra, and the remaining sections of the act are not so precisely worded, we can perceive of no legitimate reason for the legislature to have intended anything less with respect to the authority which it thereby granted to the other categories of municipalities involved.

            Therefore, in direct answer to your question, we would read the phrase "their officials" in RCW 57.08.105, supra, as meaning, simply, the officials of a water district.  In other words, we would view the statute, in substance, as authorizing a water district, acting through its governing body, to purchase liability insurance for the protection of any of the officials of the district, or any of the employees of the district, or both.  Likewise, of course, we would reach this same conclusion in the case of the various other types of districts covered by the act.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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