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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

  1. What Washington State Law Says About Wrongful Death Cases
  2. Who Can Benefit from a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit?
  3. What Can Constitute a “Wrongful Act” Under Washington’s Wrongful Death Law
  4. Recoverable Damages for Wrongful Death in Washington State
  5. The Statute of Limitations for Filing a Washington Wrongful Death Lawsuit
  6. You Do Not Have to Handle a Wrongful Death Lawsuit on Your Own
  7. Three Pitfalls to Avoid After a Wrongful Death
  8. Ways to Protect the Financial Value of a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington
  9. You Can File a Wrongful Death Case Even if the Other Party Faces Charges
  10. Getting Legal Help For Your Wrongful Death Case

Typically, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is usually a close family member, but it could also be a business partner or another person deemed appropriate. The decedent’s estate or their will appoints this party. 

The personal representative seeks compensation on behalf of the decedent’s beneficiaries, which could include their parents, spouse, and children. Navigating the claims process can prove difficult––especially if you’re grieving and unfamiliar with recovering monetary damages. A wrongful death lawyer from Herschensohn Law can review your case and represent you in all proceedings. Call (206) 588-4344 to learn more.

What Washington State Law Says About Wrongful Death Cases

RCW 4.20.010 says that the deceased person’s personal representative can bring a lawsuit against a party who causes the death by some “wrongful act, neglect, or default.” The statute says that the judge or jury can determine how much money to award to the legal beneficiaries for their economic and non-economic damages.

If the death was the result of a felony, the legal beneficiaries can still receive compensation through a wrongful death case. Also, if the wrongful act was accidental, rather than an intentional act like a crime, the survivors can receive benefits from a wrongful death lawsuit.

Who Can Benefit from a Wrongful Death Claim or Lawsuit?

Although the personal representative files the case, financial recovery is for the benefit of the eligible survivors of the decedent. Legal beneficiaries can include, according to RCW 4.20.020, the surviving spouse, state-registered domestic partners, and children of the deceased. The category of children includes stepchildren and adopted children. 

If the deceased person had no living spouse, state-registered domestic partner, or children at the time of the wrongful death, the surviving parents or siblings of the decedent can be beneficiaries.

Although there can be multiple beneficiaries who could recover damages in the wrongful death case, there can be only one wrongful death lawsuit based on the wrongful death of the deceased person. The court will handle the claims of the different parties in one lawsuit. Some parties can receive different amounts of compensation than others, depending on their circumstances. 

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What Can Constitute a “Wrongful Act” Under Washington’s Wrongful Death Law

Here are a few examples of wrongful acts that could give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit in our state:

  • The driver of a car ran a red light, striking another vehicle and causing a fatal collision.
  • A hospital nurse gave a dose of heart medication to the wrong patient, who passed away as a result.
  • A hotel knew that the locks on some guest room doors were not locking, yet it continued to assign those rooms to guests, one of whom suffered fatal injuries during a break-in.

In all of these situations, the surviving legal beneficiaries could have a personal representative file a civil lawsuit against the responsible party. Whether your loved one suffered injuries in a car accident, fall, or another incident, our personal injury team wants to be your advocate. 

Recoverable Damages for Wrongful Death in Washington State

The deceased person’s estate can seek expenses related to the decedent’s passing. These losses can include end-of-life medical bills and funeral expenses. 

The surviving dependents can pursue the loss of the decedent’s income and the services they provided. The legal beneficiaries can also seek compensation for their emotional distress, loss of companionship and guidance, and mental anguish.

Washington does not allow the judge or jury to award punitive damages or loss of inheritance as damages in wrongful death cases.

Economic Versus Non-Economic Damages in Washington Wrongful Death Cases

Damages in wrongful death cases can be confusing, in part because of the terminology people use for types of financial recovery. You might hear people talk about economic versus non-economic damages or tangible versus intangible losses.

Usually, economic damages are out-of-pocket financial losses, like lost income or the expense of the final medical treatment. The term “tangible losses” means the same thing as economic damages.

Non-economic damages are the same thing as intangible losses. Judges and juries can award financial compensation for this category, despite the label of “non-economic.” In fact, sometimes, non-economic losses receive more money than economic damages. Examples include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and loss of parental guidance.

The Statute of Limitations for Filing a Washington Wrongful Death Lawsuit

You do not want to wait too long to take legal action against the party whose wrongful act caused the death of your close relative. RCW 4.16.080 says that if you do not file a wrongful death lawsuit within three years, the law could forever bar you from holding the liable party accountable.

In other words, someone could wrongfully take the life of your loved one and never have to pay a dime in compensation to the legal beneficiaries if you wait more than three years to file a wrongful death lawsuit. We encourage you to explore your options as soon as possible.

You Do Not Have to Handle a Wrongful Death Lawsuit on Your Own

The process of handling a wrongful death case when a loved one passes away because of someone else’s wrongful conduct can be daunting. You are already having to deal with your grief and loss. Your life has turned upside-down. You might face financial hardship from the loss of your loved one’s income and services.

The last thing you should have to deal with is fighting the defendant’s insurance company to get the compensation that you and your family deserve. Thankfully, the law does not require you to personally handle the lawsuit. The wrongful death lawyers from Herschensohn Law can handle your wrongful death claim, leaving you free to rebuild your life.

Three Pitfalls to Avoid After a Wrongful Death

Here are a few mistakes that could hurt your potential wrongful death case: 

  1. Assuming that the claims adjuster is on your side. The claims adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you. Their job is to get you to accept as little as possible for your legal claim. The law does not require claims adjusters to offer the full value of what a case is worth.
  2. Allowing the insurer to talk you out of obtaining legal help. Washington State law does not force you to work with a personal injury attorney, but doing so could be a smart decision. If lawyers were not beneficial in these cases, the insurance companies would not hire so many of them for themselves.
  3. Signing any papers without having your own attorneys read them first.  Unfortunately, people have signed away their rights without realizing it because of complicated legalese and jargon. You will want to have someone who is on your side reading the legal papers and explaining whether you should sign them.

When you are dealing with the emotional and financial loss of a close relative, you are likely to be more vulnerable to tactics like these. Herschensohn Law protects you from any pitfalls that could jeopardize your case. 

Ways to Protect the Financial Value of a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington

There is often a great deal of money at stake in a wrongful death case, so do not be surprised if the defendant’s insurer pushes back aggressively against your claim. Here are just a few tips that illustrate this point:

  • Never admit fault on the part of the deceased person. You might be polite or gracious, but the insurance company could use your words as an excuse to deny the wrongful death case.
  • Do not post on social media anything about the incident that resulted in your loved one’s death, the defendant, or anything related to the case. Insurance companies can access more than you might realize, and they can take your words out of context and use them against you.
  • Make sure that you understand everything contained in the settlement agreement. For example, if the settlement includes a non-disclosure provision and you tell people how much money you received, the insurer could make you pay back the proceeds.

There are many other honest mistakes that could hurt the economic value of a wrongful death case. 

You Can File a Wrongful Death Case Even if the Other Party Faces Charges

People can face criminal charges like murder or manslaughter after their wrongful actions result in someone else’s death. For example, a person who intentionally kills their spouse could get charged with murder. A drunk driver who causes fatal injuries to someone else in a crash could get charged with vehicular manslaughter or some other crime.

Criminal cases are for the benefit of society, not necessarily for the benefit of the victim. A wrongful death lawsuit is entirely different from a criminal case. It does not matter whether the prosecutor filed criminal charges against the wrongdoer or whether the jury found the defendant guilty. You must prove different things in civil and criminal cases. So, a criminal could get a “not guilty” verdict at trial but still owe you compensation after a civil trial. 

Getting Legal Help For Your Wrongful Death Case

The wrongful death attorneys at Herschensohn Law will treat you with compassion and work tirelessly for the compensation you deserve. We offer a free initial consultation and a “no fee until you win” guarantee. 

You can reach out to us today to get started. Call (206) 588-4344 to start your free case review.

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