The following blog article was updated in January 2022.
Wrongful death lawsuits filed by minors in Washington are treated differently than those lawsuits filed by adult loved ones. Typically, a lawsuit is filed by a representative of the deceased’s estate. But from there, the court will decide how to distribute the settlement, depending on the competency of the recipient.
Most wrongful death cases settle outside of court, but that does not mean the court will not decide how the funds are distributed, especially when minors are involved in the case. If minor children are included in the list of recipients, then the court takes extra precaution to ensure that their portion of the settlement is saved and distributed to them when they reach the appropriate age.
Who Files a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington?
Washington views wrongful death claims as civil claims. A case only qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit if the death of the individual is caused by someone’s negligent, wrongful, or purposeful acts.
Essentially, it is a personal injury lawsuit or would have qualified as such, if the victim survived his or her injuries. If they survived and would have had a valid injury claim against the defendant, then surviving family members most likely have a valid wrongful death claim against the defendant.
Under state law, three parties have the capacity to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their loved one:
- A personal representative of the deceased’s estate, such as the estate’s attorney or an administrator
- The spouse or registered legal domestic partner of the deceased
- The children of the deceased (if of adult age)
What If the Children are Minors?
If the children are still minors and there are no other parties who can represent the deceased in a wrongful death claim, then the court would most likely appoint the estate’s representative to file the suit on behalf of the estate, which includes the children who are beneficiaries.
The Court Will Appoint a Guardian ad Litem to Represents the Children
While a personal representative might represent the state and any beneficiaries to that estate, the court also appoints a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the children. The Guardian not only works to ensure wrongful death settlement amounts are fair for the children but also works to protect their financial interests.
How Money Is Distributed to a Minor
When a wrongful death case settles, the minor will not receive the funds right away. Instead, the funds are set aside in a trust, which is overseen by the guardian ad litem. The child’s official guardian, the party responsible for caring for them until they reach legal age, may have access to some of those funds to help with living expenses and any needs of the child, but under strict scrutiny. Once the child reaches the legal age of 18, then he or she may access the remainder of their settlement and use it as they see fit.
When Wrongful Death Claims Involve Minors, Hire an Attorney
Wrongful death claims are highly complicated on their own, but when the recipient of a settlement is a minor, the process becomes even more complicated.
If there are more than just minor children and you have a case involving multiple beneficiaries, it is imperative that you hire a wrongful death attorney who understands how complicated these cases can be and who ensures the minors receive the compensation they need. Children who have lost a parent or both parents are devastated. And while no amount of money will replace the care, compassion, and the relationship they had with their parents, they deserve compensation that will ensure they do not have to worry financially about their well-being.
You want an experienced wrongful death attorney that protects minors from the start and ensures that negotiations are fair for the child and that the settlement is protected so that the child does not have to worry about a guardian taking advantage because they have access to the child’s funds.
Without an attorney, family members might not proceed through the settlement process correctly, and minors could be left with much less compensation than they need to survive.
What Damages Can Minor Children Receive?
The damages a minor child receives will depend on the situation. The estate will receive funds to cover any medical expenses, pending bills, funeral and burial expenses, and expenses directly related to the death. However, the court will then set aside funds for the children that might include compensation for lost wages – such as the funds their parents would have contributed toward their care and housing had they lived and continued earning for the family. Also, any damages for pain and suffering may also be distributed toward surviving minor children. Lastly, the loss of care and companionship and those intangible but essential benefits a child misses out on because they have lost their parents will go into their trust as well.
How Much Is a Minor Allowed to Receive?
There are no caps on how much the child will receive, but the funds will still go into a trust that provides only allowances for their care until they reach legal age. However, funds that are needed to pay for any funeral and burial expenses or medical expenses will not be included in the amount given to minor children.
When there is more than one child, often the settlement is distributed equally among each child. However, there are instances where the funds may be distributed differently. In this case, each guardian ad litem for each child will work toward a settlement for their child that is in their best interest.
Find a Local Wrongful Death Attorney That Understands What Happens When Minors Are Involved
If you have recently lost a loved one and you are worried about how minor children who have lost a parent will receive the settlement they deserve, contact the team at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, today. We know what you and your loved ones are going through, and we make sure our clients, even minors, receive the settlement they deserve after their devastating loss.
When you need help, know that we are here for you and your family. Call the wrongful death claim lawyers from Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC at 206-488-1601.