Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Washington: What You Should Know

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Losing a loved one is not easy — and it can be even more emotionally difficult if they passed away due to the negligence of another. In such cases, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This may allow the surviving family members to obtain damages for their loss. However, wrongful death claims are complicated and it is important to understand the rules and procedures associated with filing one.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Under Washington law, a wrongful death claim can be brought when "the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another." Simply put, this means that a wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the fault of another. They are similar to personal injury actions — except that since the injured person cannot pursue their own case, someone else must step in to bring the claim on their behalf.

Wrongful death claims can be filed in connection with negligence-based accidents, such as car crashes, bicycle accidents, motorcycle collisions, workplace accidents, or dangerous premises.

Similar to personal injury cases, several elements must be established in order to prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit. Critically, it must be shown that 1) the defendant named in the action owed a duty of care to the deceased; 2) the defendant breached their duty by engaging in negligent actions; 3) the defendant’s negligence caused the death; and 4) damages were incurred as a result.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In Washington, the personal representative of the deceased person must be the individual to commence a wrongful death lawsuit. This can either be the executor that was named in a will or an individual who the court appointed to act as personal representative. While the personal representative is the person who files the claim, any damages recovered are awarded to the deceased person’s eligible beneficiaries — their surviving family members.

By statute, damages are for the benefit of the decedent’s surviving spouse or domestic partner, and any children (including stepchildren). In the event there is no spouse, domestic partner, or children, any damages awarded may go to the deceased person’s parents or siblings.

What Damages Can Be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wide array of damages can be recovered in a wrongful death claim. Specifically, both economic and non-economic damages may be obtained under Washington law. While economic damages are meant to compensate for the monetary losses incurred as a result of the wrongful death, non-economic damages relate to the non-financial losses suffered.

The following damages are commonly awarded in a Washington wrongful death action:

  • The deceased person’s medical bills incurred due to the accident
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of the financial support the decedent would have contributed to the household
  • Loss of the deceased person’s companionship, care, affection, and guidance
  • The value of household services that the decedent performed

What is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim?

There is a strict statute of limitations of three years in Washington when it comes to filing a wrongful death claim. This is the time frame in which a lawsuit must be filed. Failure to do so before the deadline can result in the claim being dismissed — and being barred from ever filing a claim in the future.

Contact an Experienced Washington Wrongful Death Attorney

If your loved one passed away as a result of the wrongful conduct of another, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Located in Bellingham, the wrongful death attorneys at Robinson & Kole provide skillful advocacy and compassionate counsel to the family members of negligence victims throughout Washington State and work relentlessly to pursue the maximum compensation available 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.