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.
What is Wrongful Death?
“Wrongful death” is an umbrella term that covers any trauma injury or illness which prematurely claims someone’s life.
Prescription drug overdoses and vehicle collisions are the leading causes of unintentional death in the United States. Other forms of negligence, like medical malpractice, may also involve wrongful death.
No amount of money can begin to compensate for a loss like wrongful death. But financial compensation does give survivors closure and the means to move on with their lives.
And, since no one can turn back the clock and bring a loved one back, money damages are typically the only available remedy.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington
If you decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington, you should contact an experienced Washington wrongful death attorney. Washington wrongful death statutes give the families or estates of victims more time to file a lawsuit because they require extensive investigation.
Typically, your Washington wrongful death lawyer will:
- Review medical records;
- Interview potential witnesses;
- Identify defendants; and
- Gather evidence.
Once your attorney has enough support to file a Washington wrongful death lawsuit, a personal representative must be appointed. This person must be a third-party who has no interest in the outcome of the case.
During the discovery stage, defendants and plaintiffs exchange evidence, records, and other information through written questions and depositions. Near the end of this phase, the lawsuit will usually go to settlement, but can also lead to a trial.
During each of these stages, it is important to understand the different Washington wrongful death statutes and laws that could affect the outcome of your case.
Who Can Make a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington?
Usually, only the injured party can file a legal claim for damages. That’s a fundamental principle of negligence law. But in wrongful death cases, this is obviously not possible.
State laws vary significantly as to the statute of limitations and the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit. But in Washington, the following people may file these claims:
- Personal representative (usually the estate administrator),
- Deceased person’s spouse, and
- Any children or step-children of the deceased.
Some people do not have personal representatives, because they did not have wills. Some people also have no surviving spouse or children. In these cases, most blood relatives, like parents or siblings, may file wrongful death claims in Yakima County court.
In addition, 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.
Do you need help with a wrongful death lawsuit? Please contact our attorneys by filling out the form below.
What is the Washington Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?
The statute of limitations is different in wrongful death cases. In Washington State, such actions must be filed within three years of the decedent’s death.
Note that the three years does not start at the date of the accident. Many people survive a car crash but later die from car accident-related wounds. Sometimes, that death could be several months or years after the wreck.
Additionally, another incident, such as a subsequent car wreck, may contribute to an early death. In most cases, all these claims fall within the wrongful death three-year statute of limitations.
Additionally, if the personal representative files a claim on behalf of the estate, the proceedings may take place in probate court as opposed to regular civil court. The rules are different in probate court, and many of these rules are unwritten.
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.
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.
Contact an Experienced Wrongful Death Attorney in Washington Today
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.