“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.
Who May File?
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.
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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.
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 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.
If they file within the statute of limitations, most wrongful death claimants are eligible for pecuniary losses. This broad term includes:
- Decedent’s medical bills related to the final injury or illness,
- Burial and funeral expenses,
- Future lost wages,
- Decedent’s pain and suffering, and
- Survivor’s loss of financial and emotional support.
Survivors may also be able to file claims for their own grief, pain and suffering, under a theory like negligent infliction of emotional distress. That separate proceeding is almost always in civil court, even if a probate court handled the wrongful death claim.
Connect with a Tenacious Lawyer
With regard to things like the statute of limitations, wrongful death claims are different from standard negligence claims. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Yakima, contact Kapuza Lighty PLLC. After-hours visits are available.