Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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Nothing is harder than losing a family member — especially if their death was caused by the wrongful actions of another. If another individual or entity is responsible for the passing of your loved one, you may be entitled to hold them accountable by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it is important to understand what qualifies as wrongful death and who has legal standing to bring a claim in Washington.

What Qualifies as Wrongful Death in Washington?

To pursue a wrongful death action in Washington, the victim’s death must have been caused by the negligence, wrongful action, or fault of another person or entity. The conduct of the defendant may have been intentional or due to carelessness. Simply put, a wrongful death action is similar to a personal injury action with another party stepping in to bring the lawsuit on behalf of the victim.

A wide variety of accidents that result in a victim’s passing can lead to filing a wrongful death action. For instance, accidents that result in fatality can include car crashes, truck wrecks, motorcycle collisions, pedestrian knockdowns, construction site accidents, slip and falls, dog attacks, and many other accidents caused by negligence. Wrongful death lawsuits can also arise from medical malpractice and criminal acts.

Who Can Bring a Lawsuit for a Wrongful Death Claim?

Under Washington law, only the personal representative of the victim’s estate may bring an action for wrongful death against the person or entity who caused it. The personal representative is the person who is tasked with managing and administering the decedent’s estate. Also referred to as an “executor,” a personal representative may be designated in a will. Or, if there is no valid will, an “administrator” can be appointed by the court.

A personal representative does not commence a wrongful death action on behalf of themselves. The purpose of this type of lawsuit is to recover the economic and non-economic damages sustained by the victim’s beneficiaries. This is because the law assumes that these individuals were dependent on the decedent. In some cases, the personal representative may also be a beneficiary.

In Washington, beneficiaries who may recover compensation in a wrongful death action can include the following:

  • The victim’s spouse
  • A state registered domestic partner
  • The victim’s children
  • The victim’s stepchildren

In the event the victim passes away without leaving a spouse, domestic partner, or child behind, their parents or siblings may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim. However, to recover any compensation, they must be able to show they depended on the decedent for support. Alternatively, a parent may be eligible to maintain an action for “Injury or Death of a Child,” regardless of whether the child has reached the age of majority.

What is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington?

A family only has a limited amount of time to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington after their loved one’s passing, and it is vital to not delay filing a claim. Unlike personal injury cases, where the statute of limitations begins running on the date of the accident, the personal representative must file the claim within three years from the date of the victim’s death in most wrongful death actions. However, there are certain rules and exceptions when it comes to Washington’s wrongful death statute of limitations that should be noted.

What Compensation Can Be Recovered?

The specific damages that may be awarded in a Washington wrongful death lawsuit can vary, depending upon the facts of the case and the beneficiary’s relationship with the victim. Generally, economic damages can include compensation for the victim’s medical bills incurred in connection with the fatal accident-related injury, the lost wages the victim would have earned had they not passed away, funeral expenses, and burial costs.

Non-economic damages may also be obtained in a Washington wrongful death action. This category of damages covers losses that do not have a monetary amount associated with them. The types of non-economic damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit can include loss of care, loss of companionship, and other non-economic losses that the victim’s family suffered.

Washington law also provides for survival actions. This type of action can be filed along with a wrongful death action in cases where the victim did not die immediately as a result of an accident caused by someone else’s negligence. The statute allows an award of damages for the economic losses and pain and suffering the victim experienced between the time of the accident and their death. In other words, a survival action preserves the claim the victim could have brought for their personal injuries, had they not passed away.

Contact an Experienced Washington Attorney

If your loved one passed away in an accident caused by the negligence, recklessness, or wrongful conduct of another, you may be able to file a wrongful death action. Located in Bellingham, the wrongful death attorneys at Robinson & Kole provide aggressive advocacy and compassionate counsel to the family members of accident victims throughout Washington State and work diligently to pursue justice in their cases. We welcome you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 800.640.5616 or by using our online contact form. Se habla Español.