The shock of a wrongful death will take time to heal from. However, it is critical that you file a lawsuit immediately to receive the liability and compensation survivors of the deceased person are entitled to. Keep reading our blog to learn more about the wrongful death claim process and how an attorney might help you fight for the damages you deserve.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A case qualifies under the wrongful death statute in Washington when "the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another," according to the Revised Code of Washington 4.20.010. A wrongful death lawsuit can be treated like a personal injury lawsuit taken on behalf of the deceased person by a family member or other representative. As opposed to a personal injury lawsuit, wrongful death claims also allow family members to get compensation for their own losses due to a loved one’s death.
Some common situations that might warrant a wrongful death claim could be:
- workplace accidents (vehicular accidents, falls, machine-related events);
- fatal auto accidents;
- drowning (in public and private pools, parks, during recreational activities like boating);
- slips and falls;
- medical malpractice.
Who Is at Fault?
When pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is critical to identify and locate all of the responsible parties. A wrongful death attorney may do so by pursuing an in-depth investigation through witness interviews, a site investigation, procurement of police and EMS reports, and other factors.
In the case of auto accidents, the driver is usually at fault for an accident or another person who owns the vehicle, such as a mechanic, maintenance company, a vehicle or component manufacturer. With truck accidents, the at-fault party will likely be the owner of the trucking company or employer, if not the independent truck operator themselves. A manufacturer or maintenance contractor can also share liability in the case of a defective product or service.
If injury occurs on the premises of a private property, the private property owner is responsible for the accident. For example, if a property includes a pool, the owner and staff are responsible for behaviors that happen in and around the pool. Similarly, a commercial property owner, maintenance staff, security service, repair contractors, and managers may share liability.
If a negligently manufactured product causes a fatal injury, the manufacturer may be held liable, and a product distributor can also be liable if its owner’s or employee’s negligence contributed to injury. Product malfunctions may also occur in the workplace. However, if your loved one was fatally injured on the job, the employer is responsible for workers’ compensation benefits through the Washington Department of Labor & Industries.
Injuries or death that results from medical malpractice is the responsibility of a medical practitioner if they failed to meet the accepted standard of care, and that failure caused a fatal injury. Read our previous blog on medical malpractice for more information.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Usually, a responsible party in a wrongful death case will report the incident to their liability insurance carrier. From there, the insurance company will investigate the claim, and once the claim department completes their liability investigation, they might contact the victim’s representatives (spouse, family, etc.) to explore settlement options so they can avoid litigation. On the other hand, they might also close their case file and wait until they hear from the other party’s legal representative.
If you seek to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington, the most efficient way to move forward with a settlement or litigation is to contact an experienced attorney immediately. Typically, your wrongful death lawyer will:
- review medical records;
- interview potential witnesses;
- identify defendants; and
- gather relevant evidence.
During this discovery stage, defendants and plaintiffs exchange evidence, records, and other information through written questions and depositions, and at the end of this process, the lawsuit will usually go to settlement if not also onto a trial.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim in Washington must be filed within 3 years of the date of death. If the case is not filed within 3 years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it, depriving the deceased person's survivors of the chance for liability and compensation.
The following people may file a wrongful death claim in Washington on behalf of the deceased person:
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate;
- the spouse or state registered domestic partner of the deceased person; and
- the child, children, or stepchildren of the deceased person.
If the deceased person had no spouse or children, the deceased person's parents, sisters, or brothers may file a wrongful death claim.
Types of Damages Awarded
Damages in a wrongful death case are paid to the estate of the deceased person or, if the deceased person was a minor, to the deceased minor's parents and could include both economic and non-economic damages, such as:
- medical expenses;
- funeral and burial costs;
- lost wages and income that the deceased person would have earned;
- pain and suffering the deceased person experienced;
- loss of care, companionship, and other intangible benefits by the deceased person's survivors.
Note that the specific damages available in a wrongful death case depend on who is pursuing the claim. For example, a spouse, domestic partner, children or stepchildren of a deceased person may be able to obtain damages for loss of care and companionship, but a personal representative may not be able to obtain these damages.
Contact Hester Law Group to File a Wrongful Death Claim
If your loved one was a victim of wrongful death, contact a lawyer immediately to help you file a wrongful death claim. If you do not file a lawsuit within the 3-year statute of limitations, you will not be able to receive the compensation to which you are otherwise entitled. Let the legal professionals at Hester Law Group fight for your right to damages resulting from the wrongful death of a loved one.
Contact Hester Law Group immediately to discuss your case in a free consultation.