Trusted Seattle Wrongful Death Attorneys Ready To Help You
Seattle is one of the best places in the nation to live, at least according to most of its residents. Nevertheless, hidden dangers lurk. The traffic on major highways such as Interstate 90, Interstate 5, Interstate 405, and Interstate 705 can get frightening at times, and for good reason: Seattle roads claim at least a dozen lives every year.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Occupational injuries, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, and a whole host of other dangers kill Seattle residents every year. No legal system is perfectly equipped to deal with such tragedies. However, Washington’s wrongful death statute law can provide a remedy– at least to the extent that money damages are capable of compensating for the tragic death of a loved one. Our legal team and our Seattle wrongful death lawyer will help you in your case. We are passionate about helping those who live in Seattle and in the surrounding areas seek the compensation they deserve following tragic accidents that are understandably shocking and overwhelming in many ways.
How the System Works
A death is “wrongful” when it is caused by the misconduct of another (a careless or intoxicated driver, a corner-cutting product manufacturer, or a negligent doctor, for example). Certainly, a wrongful death claim may arise out of any number of circumstances. Some of the most common situations leading to wrongful death claims include:
- Medical malpractice that results in the decedent’s tragic death;
- Automobile or airplane accidents;
- Nursing home abuse;
- Workplace exposure to hazardous conditions or substances that ultimately lead to an accident, injury, or condition causing death;
- Criminal behavior;
- Death during a supervised activity;
- And more.
If you believe that the circumstances which led to the death of your loved one may give rise to a wrongful death claim, it can be helpful to understand the law that applies to wrongful death claims. Of course, talking to experienced and knowledgeable lawyers, who understand that law, can explain to you how it applies to your particular set of circumstances.
According to Washington’s wrongful death statute, 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.”
This essentially means that if the person who died would have had a personal injury claim had he survived his injuries, a wrongful death claim arises against the party whose misconduct caused the death. This claim can be resolved in court, although in practice, most wrongful death claims are resolved at the negotiating table.
Damages can be quite substantial. They compensate not only for expenses and financial losses caused by the death but also for intangible emotional damages such as the psychological suffering inflicted upon survivors. There is no upper limit on how much a jury can award in a wrongful death case. Certainly, damages will be dependent upon circumstances, and there is no way to ultimately determine how a jury would rule. Nevertheless, juries are often sympathetic to those who have lost loved ones due to negligence, and rightfully so. Seeking the compensation you deserve in the face of a tragic loss is reasonable and entirely understandable.
Types of Damages That Can be Awarded in Wrongful Death Claims
The state of Washington imposes specific rules on what kind of damages can be awarded in a successful wrongful death claim, including the following categories:
Compensation for the Victim’s Medical Expenses Incurred before Death
In most cases of wrongful death, the victim incurred a certain amount of medical expenses prior to his death. You can recover these amounts on behalf of your loved one, even if insurance would otherwise cover the amount.
Compensation for the Victim’s Lost Income
The victim’s probate estate and its beneficiaries are usually allowed to recover the lost earnings of the victim – in other words, the amount of money that the victim likely would have made but for his untimely death, minus the amount that probably would have been spent by the victim. Considerable expertise may be required to accurately estimate this amount.
This rule does not apply to the death of someone who is not of working age – a child, for example, or a retired person.
Compensation for the Victim’s Pain, Suffering, and Fear Prior to Death
Dying is often the most painful period of a person’s life, especially if the process was slow. In addition to physical pain and suffering, the victim might have known of his impending demise and have suffered a significant amount of fear as a consequence. All of these negative psychological effects are considered worthy of compensation under Washington personal injury law. These kinds of damages are often awarded to the victim’s dependents.
A lot depends on the victim’s precise manner of death. If the victim died instantaneously in an accident, for example, compensation in this category might be zero. If the victim died a slow and painful death, on the other hand, damages could be immense. A medical expert may be needed to determine the degree of pain and suffering that the victim endured.
Compensation for Funeral and Burial Expenses
Funeral and burial expenses can be quite high, and the victim’s probate estate (which normally pays these expenses) is entitled to compensation for them. Expenses for cremation can also be compensated.
Compensation for Loss of the Victim’s Love, Companionship, and Guidance
This category of damages directly compensates the victim’s family members for losses that they themselves suffered as a result of the victim’s death. The children of the victim, for example, might greatly suffer from the loss of the victim’s guidance and counsel, while the spouse might suffer a loss of companionship.
Let the knowledgable Seattle wrongful death lawyers of Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner help you get the compensation that you deserve.
Some of Our Other Practice Areas
You don’t have to wait until someone dies from their injuries to contact us. Even if the injuries are not fatal, a personal injury claim may very well be available. We frequently handle the following types of personal injury claims, among others:
- Car Accidents: Just about everyone has seen the immediate aftermath of a serious car accident at some point or another. What most people don’t see, until they become a car accident victim, is the financial difficulties that sometimes result. Washington’s personal injury compensation system is designed to remedy this problem.
- Motorcycle Accidents: Motorcycle accidents, although not as common as car accidents, are far more likely to be fatal. It is possible to be compensated for a motorcycle accident even if you do not possess a motorcycle license. Partial compensation may be available even if you shared fault for the accident.
- DUI Accidents: You don’t need to wait for a criminal conviction to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim over a DUI accident. You can win even if the driver is never convicted of a criminal offense, and in some cases, you can even file a claim against the bar that sold him alcohol.
- Truck Accidents: The harsh reality is that truck accidents are frequently catastrophic. One mitigating factor, however, is that commercial truckers typically carry more than enough insurance to fully compensate just about any claimant. Truck accident claims can get technically complex, requiring the assistance of an experienced truck accident law firm in Seattle.
- Bicycle Accidents: Bicyclists are incredibly vulnerable on public roads. In many cases, an accident will occur because a motorist did not even see the bicyclist until it was too late. We can help you reconstruct the accident and establish fault on the part of the motorist.
- Pedestrian Accidents: About eight pedestrian accidents occur every day in Seattle, and a fatality occurs about once a week. Most of these accidents occur in downtown areas or student zones where people are forced to walk to their destination. Damages awards for pedestrian accidents are typically high because of the seriousness of these types of accidents.
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): Just about any accident can cause a traumatic brain injury – in fact, this condition can even result from medical malpractice. TBI claims often lead to scientifically complex cases that require expert witnesses to resolve.
- Medical Malpractice: It is frightening to ponder a simple but unavoidable fact – doctors are human, too. While not every mistake amounts to medical malpractice, some of them do. And when they happen, full compensation is in order.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Conduct Qualifies as “Wrongful”?
“Wrongful” means misconduct that could be an act (running a red light, for example) or a failure to act (failure to check a medical patient’s vital signs when the situation demands it, for example) in violation of a duty of care towards another person. The misconduct could be characterized as:
- Negligent (careless);
- Reckless (driving while intoxicated, for example); or
- Intentional (a violent assault, for example).
An act does not have to be illegal to be considered wrongful; yet, in certain cases, an act that is illegal might not be considered wrongful for the purposes of establishing liability. So much depends on the circumstances.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Under Washington’s wrongful death statute, the following parties may file a wrongful death claim:
- The personal representative (executor) of the victim’s estate, as appointed by the probate court;
- The victim’s surviving spouse or registered domestic partner; or
- The victim’s children (including stepchildren).
If no spouse, domestic partner, or children survive the victim, the victim’s parents or siblings may file a wrongful death claim.
What if the victim is a minor child (under 18)?
Under Washington law, a parent seeking to file a wrongful death claim must have regularly contributed to the child’s financial support. It is irrelevant, however, whether the parents are married or were ever married, except that in some cases a putative father might have to establish fatherhood to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If one parent files a wrongful death claim, he or she must serve the other parent with a copy of the legal complaint.
What kinds of damages are available?
A typical wrongful death damages award includes:
- The victim’s medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages and income that the victim would have earned but for his untimely death
- Compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering
- Compensation for any damaged property
- Compensation for family members’ loss of intangible benefits such as companionship
What do I need to prove to win?
Winning a wrongful death claim involves proving the following four elements:
- Duty: The defendant owed the victim a duty of care. In a road accident, for example, this would mean the duty to drive safely. In a medical malpractice action, by contrast, the doctor would be held to a much higher professional standard of care, as long as a doctor-patient relationship had been established.
- Breach of duty: The defendant failed to meet his duty due to a wrongful act or failure to act.
- Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty actually caused the death of your loved one.
- Damages: Of course, the very fact of your loved one’s death establishes damages. The exact amount of damages might depend on other factors, however, such as the degree of the victim’s pain and suffering prior to death.
What is the difference between a criminal homicide prosecution and a wrongful death lawsuit?
The most important difference is the standard of proof. In a criminal prosecution, the standard is “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a wrongful death lawsuit, the standard is “a preponderance of the evidence.” In plain English, this means something like “more likely than not.” It is much easier to win a civil lawsuit than it is to win a criminal prosecution.
Can a wrongful death lawsuit be filed for the loss of a pregnancy?
Yes, as long as the fetus was “viable,” meaning that it probably would have been born healthy if not for the incident caused by the defendant’s wrongful conduct.
What if the victim was partly at fault for the accident?
You can still recover damages, but they will be reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault for the accident (40 percent, for example). If the other party was injured, too (as in a car accident), that party might sue the victim’s estate, and in some cases, that amount might be greater than the amount awarded for wrongful death.
Eileen is killed when her bicycle is hit by a drunk driver late at night. Eileen’s husband, Jack, who has been named executor of her estate, files a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver. Because the driver’s insurance coverage limits are nowhere near what Jack might expect to receive from a successful wrongful death lawsuit, Jack also sues the nightclub that sold the driver alcohol under Washington state’s dram shop law.
The driver is willing to settle with Jack for the limits of his insurance policy, but the nightclub refuses to settle easily. The night club presents evidence that Eileen’s bicycle had no reflectors, which is particularly significant because the accident took place at night in an area with no street lights. The nightclub also claims that the car’s brakes were partly malfunctioning due to faulty repair. In response, Jack files a claim against the repair shop.
Eventually, the case goes to trial. No persuasive evidence is submitted to back the claim that the repair shop negligently repaired the brakes, and consequently, the repair shop is not held liable. Eileen is determined to have been 25 percent at fault for the accident. The court holds the nightclub liable for $400,000 in wrongful death damages.
We Know the System and We Get Results
At Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, we enjoy the counsel of nearly 50 years of experience resolving wrongful death claims for our clients and our results over the past few years speak for themselves. We understand the complexities of the law surrounding wrongful death claims and how to apply that knowledge of the law to the particular circumstances of your case. We have the necessary blend of compassion and aggression to fight effectively for our clients in order to obtain the compensation they deserve for the loss of their loved ones. While no amount of money can replace the presence of a cherished loved one, we are pleased to play some small part in ensuring that our clients, at the very least, do not have to worry about the stress of financial difficulties in the midst of their grief.
For example, here are some of the verdicts of which we are proud:
- $2.5 million in compensation for the death of a teenage boy in a Jet-Ski accident
- $2.3 million in compensation for the deaths of four people in a landslide accident on an abandoned logging road
- $1 million in compensation for a pedestrian killed by a truck
- $2.5 million in compensation awarded by a jury for death caused when a motorcycle hit a freight train
- $800,000 in compensation for a truck accident fatality
All told, we have won over $100,000,000 in damages for our personal injury and wrongful death clients over the years. We would welcome the opportunity to try to do the same for you on behalf of the person you love.
Justice Demands a Response
If your loved one has died as a result of someone else’s misconduct, justice demands a response, even if the perpetrator’s actions did not constitute criminal conduct. While no amount of money can return your loved one, compensation can help with things like medical bills, lost wages, lost future earnings, and provide some small comfort amidst your pain and suffering. If you have lost a loved one, you are not without rights and you should feel confident in asserting those rights by putting your best legal foot forward.
Contact a skilled Seattle wrongful death attorney at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner today. Call or fill out our online contact form so that we can schedule a free consultation to discuss your options. Our Seattle wrongful death lawyers serve clients in Mercer Island, Mount Baker, Northgate, and elsewhere in Seattle. We look forward to speaking with you soon, listening to your story, and learning how we might best be able to help. Call us today and take the first step toward seeking the compensation you deserve.