2019 Changes to WA State Wrongful Death Laws
Effective, July 28, 2019, Washington State’s wrongful death laws were expanded with the amendment of four statutes in SSB 5163. In short, the Substitute Senate Bill allows a broader category of people to be able to sue for wrongful death (RCW 4.20.020) and expands the types of damages they may recover (RCW 4.20.046). Note that the law was remedial and retroactive and applied to all claims that were not time barred, as well as any claims that were pending in any court on July 28, 2019.
What is wrongful death?
When a person was killed due to the negligence or criminal behavior of another, they may have suffered a wrongful death. Wrongful death lawsuits are filed on behalf of the family who has been wrongfully deprived of a loved one because of a wrongful death. These lawsuits seek to ease the financial burden of the survivors who are now dealing with unexpected expenses and lost wages. A successful claim will recover for a variety of financial damages including funeral expenses, lost services such as childcare, medical expenses, lost earning potential and inheritance.
Simple overview of the changes to WA State wrongful death laws
- As outlined in the general wrongful death statute, the deceased person’s spouse, registered domestic partner and children are given priority to file a wrongful death claim. If the decedent didn’t have a spouse, registered domestic partner or any children, then parents or siblings may recover through the personal representative of the deceased. Under the old general wrongful death laws, parents or siblings could only recover if they were residing in the United States and were financially dependent on the deceased. Under the new law, these qualifications no longer exist for parents and siblings.
- SSB 5163 adds language about the ability to recover economic damages such as lost wages and that non-economic damages for pain and suffering, etc. are recoverable to the updated beneficiary structure identified in the general wrongful death statute.
- The special survival statute (RCW 4.20.060) – which lays out recoverable economic and non-economic damages for the time between the injury and the victim’s death – was also adjusted to the updated beneficiary structure.
- Under the old wrongful death of a child statute (RCW 4.24.010), parents or legal guardians could bring a suit for the death of their minor child IF they regularly provided for the child financially or if they were financially dependent on an adult child. With the passage of SSB 5163, parents or legal guardians of a deceased adult child do not have to show financial dependence on their child anymore, but they must demonstrate “significant involvement” in the child’s life. In addition, parents or legal guardians may only recover for the death of their child if the child did not have a spouse, registered domestic partner or children of their own, though they are entitled to recover for their own losses, regardless of marital status. Other changes were additions to the categories of damages that a parent could recover including “other economic losses” and “loss of the child’s emotional support.”
This is not meant to be a legal document. Speak to a wrongful death attorney about your legal rights.
Seek the help of a wrongful death attorney
If you lost a loved one due to a preventable medical error or the reckless/negligent behavior of another, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced wrongful death attorney fight for justice on your behalf. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a wrongful death lawyer. Call the most experienced practicing wrongful death attorneys Bellingham has at Tario & Associates, P.S. today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing grieving family members in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!