When someone is killed in a car crash or other accident caused by someone else, the person responsible should be held accountable. The family is left dealing with the grief of losing a loved one while trying to find a way to deal with funeral expenses and the family's loss of income. A wrongful death lawsuit in Washington allows the family to seek compensation for their loss and hold the person who caused the accident accountable for their actions.
Under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 4.20.010, “when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another his or her personal representative may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death.”
After an injury accident, the injury victim can file a personal injury lawsuit against those responsible for the accident. However, when the accident is fatal, the victim is not able to file a lawsuit against the person who caused the accident. However, wrongful death lawsuits give certain surviving family members a cause of action to file a claim against the negligent defendants.
Types of Accidents Resulting in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Any type of accident that results in a fatal injury can give rise to a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington. Accidents that could result in fatal injuries may include:
- Car accidents;
- Truck accidents;
- Motorcycle accidents;
- Bike accidents;
- Pedestrian accidents;
- Dog attacks;
- Electrical shock;
- Workplace accidents;
- Slip and fall; and
- Product defects.
When the accident was caused by another's negligence, then the negligent party should be held liable for their actions. Wrongful death claims may involve claims of negligence, product liability, premises liability, negligence per se, vicarious liability, or strict liability. This is related to the cause of action involved and what the plaintiffs have to show to hold the defendants liable.
Defendants in wrongful death claims can involve individuals, companies, and may involve multiple parties. This includes:
- Property owners;
- Automobile companies;
- Product manufacturers;
- Distributors; and
- State, county, or local governments.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington?
Only certain individuals can file a wrongful death claim in Washington. Beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim include the following family members related to the deceased:
- Domestic partner
- Child or children (including stepchildren)
If there is no spouse, domestic partner, or children, then the parents or siblings can file a wrongful death claim but only if they were dependent upon the deceased for support.
How Long Does the Family Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
There is a limited time to file a wrongful death claim in Washington. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations for most wrongful death claims is three years from the date of death. However, this timeline can be longer or shorter in some cases.
The statute of limitations also applies to personal injury claims. Most personal injury cases have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. However, if the injury victim later passes away as a result of the accident, then the statute of limitations may run from the date of the negligent accident instead of the date of death.
Family members should contact an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to avoid filing their claim too late. If a lawsuit is filed even one day too late, the family may lose out on their claim.
Damages in a Washington Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit include the financial losses associated with the family's loss as well as noneconomic damages related to the loss of a loved one. These damages may include:
- Funeral costs;
- Burial expenses;
- Loss of income the family member would have earned;
- Loss of support;
- Loss of consortium; or
- Loss of services.
The estate of the deceased may also be able to seek damages from any medical costs and expenses that the deceased incurred after the accident but before death.
Wrongful Death Claims Process
Before a lawsuit is filed in a wrongful death case, the family members should contact an experienced Washington personal injury attorney. Wrongful death claims generally require extensive investigation into the cause of the accident and how the accident lead to the family member's death.
Your wrongful death lawyer will review medical records, interview witnesses, and consult experts to determine if there was evidence of wrongdoing in the accident. The attorney will also need to identify all the potential defendants in the case, including those who may reside in other states or countries.
After your attorney gathers evidence to support a wrongful death lawsuit, the lawsuit can be filed. To file a wrongful death case, a personal representative is appointed. This could be a family member or a third-party with no interest in the outcome of the case. Talk to your attorney about when a third-party is recommended to be the personal representative in the lawsuit.
During discovery, the defendants and plaintiffs will exchange records, evidence, and other information. This includes answering written questions and taking depositions. Wrongful death cases may also involve expert witnesses who review the evidence and provide an opinion on the cause of death and who was responsible.
At any time before the end of a trial, the parties may decide to settle the case. A settlement may be better for the family who does not have to endure the difficult process of a trial. It also provides some predictability in the outcome rather than leaving the case up to a jury to decide if the defendants were responsible for the accident.
Clark County Wrongful Death Lawsuit Attorney
After a loved one is killed in an accident, it can be difficult for the family to think about what to do next. An experienced Washington wrongful death attorney can help you and your family through the difficult process to make sure the people responsible for the accident are held accountable.
Quinn Posner at Posner Law Office, P.C. will watch out for you and your best interests and fight for your rights. Quinn Posner represents injury victims and their families in Camas, Washougal, and Clark County. Call today for a free wrongful death lawsuit consultation.