Certain family members have the right to seek compensation when their loved one dies because of another person’s negligence or wrongful act.
This is done by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Here the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Kapuza Lighty, PLLC answer a few common questions about Washington’s wrongful death statute and wrongful death lawsuits.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Under Washington law, only the following family members may file a wrongful death action:
- A spouse or registered domestic partner
- Children or stepchildren, or
- If there is no spouse, partner or children, then parents or siblings who depended on the deceased for financial support.
And of course, parents may file on behalf of a child — but only if the child is not yet an adult. State legislators recently considered expanding the list of eligible beneficiaries to allow financially independent parents to file on behalf of their adult children, but that effort failed.
There are special rules when the deceased person is a child under 18 years old. Only a parent who “regularly contributes” to the child’s support can file or benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit on the child’s behalf. In other words, a parent who is not in the child’s life is not eligible for compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, if one parent files a wrongful death suit, he or she must notify the other parent within 20 days, to give that parent the opportunity to join.
The personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can also file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Do you need help with a wrongful death lawsuit? Please contact our attorneys by filling out the form below.
When Should I File My Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The statute of limitations, or deadline, for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington is three years from the date of the death. You will lose your right to seek compensation from the wrongdoer if you don’t file within that time frame.
How to Prove Liability Under the Washington Wrongful Death Statute
To hold a defendant legally responsible for a loved one’s death, a plaintiff must be able to establish that the defendant’s reckless or careless conduct was, at least partially, the reason why the accident occurred. For the most part, Washington wrongful death claims are based on the legal theory of negligence. Prevailing in a lawsuit filed under the Washington wrongful death statute requires proving that:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
- The defendant violated the standard of care; and
- The defendant’s breach of their obligations played a role in causing the fatal accident.
Wrongful death claims can involve a wide range of underlying accidents, including motor vehicle collisions, commercial truck accidents, motorcycle wrecks, defective products, medical malpractice, nursing home abuse & neglect, and much more.
No matter the specific circumstances, all Washington wrongful death claims should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. An experienced Yakima, WA wrongful death lawyer will investigate the fatal accident and help you gather all of the evidence needed to establish liability and secure justice, accountability, and the maximum available financial compensation.
What If the Wrongdoer Is Also Being Criminally Prosecuted?
Criminal charges are not a prerequisite to filing civil charges under Washington’s wrongful death statute. A criminal lawsuit also will not prevent you from filing a wrongful death claim. These are two different types of remedies that can co-exist or proceed independently. A wrongful death lawsuit is designed to compensate the victim’s family financially, while criminal charges are filed by the state to punish the wrongdoer. Criminal penalties do not include compensation for the family.
What Damages Are Available in Wrongful Death Cases?
The damages awarded in wrongful death cases can be both economic and noneconomic. Economic damages, like medical bills, funeral expenses, property damage, and lost wages, are easily quantifiable. Noneconomic damages are more difficult to quantify. These can include loss of companionship and loss of care.
The specific damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit depend on who is filing the suit. For example, a child may become entitled to different damages than a spouse or parent. Similarly, a non-family member personal representative wouldn’t be able to claim noneconomic damages like loss of companionship.
Under the Washington wrongful death statute, the burden of proving damages always rests on the plaintiff. Do not accept a wrongful death settlement that offers less than you and your family are owed under the law. Work with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who can make sure that the complete extent of your economic and non economic damages are properly documented so that you can recover full financial compensation.
Contact a Yakima Wrongful Death Lawyer
At Kapuza Lighty, PLLC, our Yakima wrongful death are compassionate, effective advocates for our clients. We will help you seek the maximum available financial compensation for your loved one’s untimely death, including medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of companionship. To set up a free, completely confidential, initial consultation, please contact us today.