Wrongful Death Lawyer in WA State
The unnecessary death of a loved one may well be the most traumatic event experience a person could ever experience. When a death occurs from an act of negligence, a wrongful action or a complete lack of action in the face of a crisis (and is caused by another person or an entity) it is generally considered a wrongful death. A wrongful death is one which is generally considered preventable. There are a number of causes of wrongful deaths across the United States, but the primary causes include:
- Motor vehicle accidents (including cars, large trucks, and motorcycles);
- Medical malpractice;
- Slip and falls;
- Accidents in the workplace;
- Death from defective products;
- Exposure to toxic materials;
- Boating accidents;
- Fatal dog bites;
- Swimming pool accidents, and
- Criminal assault.
A wrongful death not only causes emotional trauma for loved ones, but also leaves families struggling financially, due to the loss of financial support. The children of a deceased parent have lost the future financial support of that parent and have also lost parental care and guidance. The surviving spouse of the deceased has had a future with the person they loved taken away from them, as well as financial support and help raising the children. Absolutely no amount of money can compensate family members who have lost a loved one, yet a financial settlement gained through a civil action can help ease the financial devastation resulting from a wrongful death.
Factors in Wrongful Deaths
According to the NHTSA for those under the age of thirty-five, auto accidents are the primary cause of a wrongful death. That being said, an article in the Washington Post lists medical errors as the third leading cause of death, after cancer and heart disease. This means that medical errors and auto accidents are the top two causes of wrongful deaths in the United States. Medical errors can include surgical errors, hospital infections, being given the wrong prescription drug (or in the wrong dosage), misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses, and birth injuries caused by malpractice. Any time a medical professional fails to provide the required level of care, and death results, a wrongful death may have occurred.
Workplace injuries and occupational diseases are often responsible for wrongful deaths—any death which occurs in the workplace as a result of company negligence can be considered a wrongful death. This company negligence could include illness due to an unsafe work environment, improper training, dangerous machine-related accidents, fires or explosions, or faulty equipment. Defective products can often be traced back to the designers or manufacturers who must minimize the risk of harm from their products to the general public. When death results from a flawed product design, a defective manufacturing process, or a failure to warn consumers of potential hazards, a wrongful death may have occurred. A slip and fall accident, with a resulting death which was caused by a negligent act or a failure to respond to a hazard, may also be considered a wrongful death.
Who is Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Claim in the State of Washington?
A person who dies in the state of Washington leaves behind an “estate.” This estate includes everything owned by the person at the time of his or her death. If the person had a will, then a personal representative or executor is likely named in the will. If there was no will, the court would appoint a personal representative. Washington law allows the following parties to file a wrongful death claim:
- The decedent’s named personal representative (or the personal representative appointed by the court);
- The decedent’s spouse;
- The decedent’s state-registered domestic partner;
- The decedent’s child, children or stepchildren.
If the decedent had no spouse, state-registered domestic partner, child, children, or stepchildren, then Washington law allows the decedent’s parents or siblings to file a wrongful death claim.
Special Rules for Washington Wrongful Deaths Involving a Child Under the Age of 18
If a child under the age of 18 dies as the result of negligence, only a parent who regularly contributes to the support of the child has the right to file (or join) a Washington wrongful death claim. Either parent—regardless of whether the parents are divorced, separated, or were never married—may file a wrongful death claim, however, the parent must serve the other parent with a copy of the complaint within 20 days of when the claim is filed. The purpose of serving the other parent is to notify the parent about the wrongful death claim, allowing the other parent to join the claim.
Statutes of Limitations in a Washington Wrongful Death
In the state of Washington, a wrongful death claim must be made within three years of the date of the death. A civil wrongful death claim and a criminal case for the same death, are separate issues. As an example, if a doctor acted in a particularly malicious or egregious manner and death resulted, not only may the family of the deceased file a civil wrongful death claim, the state may also pursue criminal charges against the doctor.
Potential Damages in a Washington Wrongful Death Claim
If a Washington wrongful death claim is successful, the settlement will be paid to the estate of the decedent. If the decedent was a minor, the settlement would be paid to the parents bringing the wrongful death claim. Damages may include the following (depending on the circumstances of the wrongful death):
- All medical bills related to the accident which caused the decedent’s injuries and death;
- Funeral and burial expenses;
- Lost wages and income the decedent would likely have earned if he or she had not suffered a wrongful death;
- Any costs related to damaged property;
- Damages for pain and suffering experienced by the decedent as a result of his or her injury prior to death;
- Loss of companionship, care, and other intangible benefits suffered by the decedent’s family members.
How a Palace Law Attorney Can Help Following a Washington Wrongful Death
Those who have lost a loved one as a direct result of negligence may consider filing a Washington wrongful death claim. It is extremely important to speak to a knowledgeable Washington wrongful death attorney prior to filing a wrongful death claim to ensure you understand all your options. An experienced Tacoma wrongful death attorney can assist you with your Washington wrongful death claim in a professional, compassionate manner, using all the resources at his or her disposal. A Palace Law wrongful death lawyer can help grieving family members recover just compensation. Our attorneys help survivors recover from their loss, aggressively dealing with insurance companies while fighting for the rights of those left behind. Contact a Palace Law wrongful death attorney today for a comprehensive evaluation of your claim.