How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

Categories: Wrongful Death

emotional distress

Wrongful death lawsuits in the state of Washington work differently than in other states. One of the biggest differences is that the damages (compensation) are paid to the estate of the deceased, rather than directly to the claimants in the lawsuit. Furthermore, the state has special rules for what qualifies as a lawsuit, and how you must proceed if you wish to receive compensation after the death of a loved one.

No dollar amount can bring back the loss of a loved one, but wrongful death lawsuits are designed to make loved ones left behind as financially whole as possible so that they do not suffer economically as well as emotionally.

If you live in the state of Washington, and you recently lost a loved one due to someone’s negligent acts, you may be entitled to file for wrongful death. However, it is important that you not only understand how these claims work, but that you also speak with an attorney. Wrongful death claims are incredibly complex, and while you may assume your case qualifies, it may not meet the stringent requirements set by the state.

What Does Washington Consider a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Every state has its own definition for wrongful death lawsuit in addition to how these claims work. In Washington, wrongful death lawsuits occur when a person’s death is linked to someone’s negligent, wrongful, or purposeful acts.

The best way to think of a wrongful death claim is to think of it as a personal injury lawsuit that is filed after the victim dies. Therefore, if the victim had lived, they would have filed a lawsuit against the at-fault party for his or her injuries.

While the deceased cannot file a personal injury claim, loved ones have the right to file one on his or her behalf under Revised Code of Washington Section 4.20.010. 

Also, if there is a criminal trial in process, family members can still file a wrongful death claim and seek compensation – and they may file regardless of the verdict in that criminal case. Criminal cases and civil cases are two entirely different things. The burden of proof is much higher in criminal court, and while they have similar evidence, a person does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone caused a death. Instead, injury laws require that they prove the death occurred because of the defendant’s actions using a preponderance of the evidence.

What Is a Preponderance of the Evidence?

Think of civil court as a scale. Each side starts even on the scale, but as they present evidence, that scale tips more on one side than the other. The more evidence, and the more convincing that evidence is, the more the scale would tip in favor of that party. When family can prove with enough evidence that the defendant caused their loved one’s death, then the jury or judge may decide in their favor and award compensation.

Washington Limits which Parties Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Most states have designated parties for whom they authorize to collect compensation in a wrongful death case. Some states are more lenient about whom they allow, and some even allow same-sex partners (when marriage is legalized in their state).

Washington limits who can file for a wrongful death claim and currently only allow:

  • The estate’s representative – Washington allows the estate’s representative, such as the administrator, to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased’s estate.
  • The spouse of the deceased – The legally married spouse of the deceased can also file for wrongful death, and any registered domestic partner may as well.
  • Children of the deceased – When there is no spouse, children of the deceased may file. Often, they will do so using the estate representative, who will file on behalf of all children in the estate and distribute the funds from the lawsuit as part of the estate’s assets.

The Law Limits How Long You Have to File Your Case

The state limits how long you have to file your wrongful death case, and this is to prevent someone from filing a wrongful death claim years (or even decades) after the fact. In Washington, you have up to three years from the date of death to file your claim, but you should avoid waiting that long. The sooner you begin the process, the easier it will be to gather the evidence you need to prove your case in court.

What Damages Can You Receive in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Damages in wrongful death cases are not the same as in a personal injury lawsuit. While there is some overlap, there are also distinct compensation values reserved solely for wrongful death suits.

  • Any medical costs associated with the incident that lead to the victim’s death
  • Funeral and burial expenses up to a reasonable value
  • Any lost wages or loss of income from the death of a loved one
  • Pain and suffering the victim experienced up to his or her death
  • Any property damage that was part of the incident that led to the victim’s death
  • Any loss of care or companionship caused by the death

Do You Really Need an Attorney?

While you may think that filing a wrongful death claim is as easy as pushing papers through your local civil court, these cases are not. Not only do you have multiple filing deadlines and paperwork to complete, but you must do so with laws that continually change.

Likewise, you are in a season of grief. You are recovering after losing a loved one, and the last thing you should worry about is filing legal documents, negotiating with insurance companies, or worrying about details. An attorney can serve as your advocate, ensuring not only that you get compensation for the areas above, but also that you get the compensation you actually deserve.

While no amount can bring back a loved one, you have the right to make sure that you and your family are not financially impacted by a loved one’s death.

Speak with an injury advocate today from Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC. Call our offices to schedule your free case evaluation or contact us online with your questions.

Author Photo

Matt Conner

Matt Conner has a proven track record of success. Following his graduation from Willamette University with a double major in mathematics and economics, Matt worked as an economist for the Office of Economic Analysis for the State of Oregon before moving onto working in mortgage banking and real estate.