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.
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.
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.
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.
Contact a Yakima Wrongful Death Lawyer
The Yakima wrongful death attorneys at Kapuza Lighty PLLC, can help you seek compensation for your loved one’s untimely death, including medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of companionship. Don’t hesitate to contact us today for assistance.