Understanding Wrongful Death in Washington State
No matter the circumstance, losing a loved one is a painful and emotional experience but what happens when the loss could have been prevented? If your loved one died as a result of another’s negligence or wrongful action whether by a car crash or medical malpractice they may have suffered a wrongful death.
In your state of grief, you may be feeling overwhelmed but still determined to seek justice for this unnecessary loss. You may have questions about what evidence you will need to gather, what type of lawyer you should hire and how to prevent this sort of accident from ever happening again in your family. The first thing to do is call an experienced wrongful death attorney in your area.
Understanding Wrongful Death in WA State
A wrongful death lawsuit is brought by the spouse or dependents of a person who has died as a result of the negligence or intentional act of another person or entity. Every state, including Washington, has wrongful death laws on the books to compensate family members who suffer the wrongful death of a loved one. The idea is that those who take care of people’s lives will have an extra incentive to prevent unnecessary death through preventable accidents.
The suit seeks to recover for a variety of “pecuniary” or financial damages including funeral and medical expenses, lost wages, loss of support and services, potential inheritance, and companionship. The amount of pecuniary loss is determined by a jury based on the age, character and condition of the decedent and the quality of the relationship with the plaintiff, his/her earning capacity, life expectancy, health and intelligence, as well as the circumstances of the beneficiaries of the estate.
In Washington State, the “Wrongful Death” and “Survival” statutes define the permitted actions and permitted beneficiaries in claims on behalf of the deceased, or the “decedent” in legalese. The action is brought by a “personal representative” of the decedent’s estate who is preferably not a beneficiary of the estate. It is the duty of the personal representative to settle the estate as rapidly as possible, collecting and paying all debts of the estate. Along with the family, the personal representative is entrusted to hire the wrongful death lawyer on behalf of the estate.
Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Action
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death action in Washington State is three years and is not delayed if the beneficiaries are minors because the suit is brought by the personal representative not the minor.
Washington State’s Statutory Scheme
1. RCW 4.20.010 This general wrongful death statute creates a cause of action, brought by the personal representative, to compensate a decedent’s surviving family members for “pecuniary,” (monetary) losses they sustained as a result of the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another.
2. RCW 4.20.020 This statute assigns two tiers of beneficiaries to the statutory wrongful death action. The first-tier includes the spouse and children of the decedent and the second includes the parents and siblings of the deceased. The second tier may only recover damages if there are no first tier beneficiaries and if the designated beneficiaries were dependent for support on the deceased.
3. RCW 4.20.060 This special Survival Statute allows for the deceased’s action for personal injury to survive. The decedent’s own action for personal injuries causing death may be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate on behalf of the beneficiaries listed above. If there are no statutory beneficiaries as defined in RCW 4.20.020, no claim can be brought under the Special Survival Statute.
4. RCW 4.20.046 This “General Survival Statute” allows the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to recover economic accumulations minus the personal expenses the estate would reasonably have acquired over their expected life term. This statute says that noneconomic damages such as for the decedent’s pain and suffering may not be recovered.
5. RCW 4.24.010 This is the action allowing for recovery of pain, suffering and expenses for the wrongful injury or death of a child.
If you lost a loved one due to a preventable medical error or the reckless 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!