Understanding the Wrongful Death Act in Washington State

Categories: Wrongful Death

Wrongful death case in Washington State.

When someone’s actions result in the death of another, they must be held accountable for the damage they caused. Wrongful death actions represent the legal claims made by survivors of those killed by the wrongful actions of another. Wrongful death actions may be pursued as lawsuits, possibly resulting in a wrongful death settlement in Washington State.

What Is a Wrongful Death Act?

A wrongful death act is a statutory law that governs wrongful death actions in a particular jurisdiction. Wrongful death is generally a civil legal claim brought against anyone who can be held liable for another’s death due to a wrongful action. Different states have different laws governing wrongful death claims, and the details of those laws can vary.

The Wrongful Death Act in Washington State defines wrongful death as a death “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” Negligence or intentional actions can cause wrongful death.

To prove negligence, you have to demonstrate the following elements:

  • The defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased person;
  • The defendant breached their legal duty;
  • The breach resulted in the death of the victim, and
  • The victim’s loved ones suffered damages as a result of their death.

A common wrongful death negligence action would be a car accident death. A driver who violates their legal duty of driving safely and kills someone may be found negligent in a wrongful death claim. For example, say a driver comes home after heavy drinking at a local bar. The driver blows through a red light on the way home and causes a fatal car crash in the intersection. In this case, the driver was clearly negligent in being intoxicated while driving, a wrongful act. The driver’s wrongful act then resulted in the death of another person, setting the stage for a wrongful death claim under the legal theory of negligence.

A wrongful death may also be caused by a more violent and intentional act such as battery. Battery is an intentional, offensive, and unwanted touching. This can mean as little as a flick on the arm or as much as a genuinely violent action. For example, if someone is shot by an assailant with a gun and dies, their wrongful death is caused by an intentional act. The gunshot was a battery which would qualify as “the wrongful act of another” leading to their death. In this case, the deceased’s personal representative would have the ability to file a wrongful death claim against the assailant for the damages they caused to the surviving beneficiaries.

How Does Someone Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?

Washington’s wrongful death statute gives the personal representative of the deceased person the right to bring an action on behalf of that person’s beneficiaries. So who is a personal representative? The deceased’s will can appoint a personal representative. The probate court would appoint the personal representative if the deceased left no will. A personal representative has the duties of settling the deceased’s estate, bringing legal claims, and protecting the assets so they can be fairly doled out. As it relates to wrongful death actions, the personal representative has the sole ability to bring suit on behalf of the deceased individual’s surviving family members.

Under the statute, beneficiaries in wrongful death actions include:

  • Spouses,
  • State-registered domestic partners,
  • Children,
  • Parents, or
  • Siblings.

No other party can collect money from a wrongful death action except these specific individuals.

Statute of Limitations of Wrongful Death

A statute of limitations is the time limit to initiate a legal proceeding. If you file a legal claim after its statute of limitations has expired, the action is void. The statute of limitations for wrongful death actions is three years. The clock counting down the statute of limitations starts upon the victim’s death and runs until three years to the day. Wrongful death actions require extensive investigation, and all relevant evidence doesn’t usually stick around for three years. If you suffer the loss of a loved one, it’s in your best interest to file a wrongful death claim as soon as possible to avoid the statute of limitations.

How Much Can You Collect for Wrongful Death Damages?

According to the Washington wrongful death statute, recoverable damages from a wrongful death action include economic and noneconomic damages. The damage calculation is based on damages suffered by the deceased person’s loved ones, not the deceased person. A list of common damages in wrongful death actions include:

  • Loss of victim’s earnings,
  • Loss of victim’s insurance benefits,
  • Medical and funeral expenses,
  • Loss of consortium damages,
  • Pain and suffering damages,
  • Loss of inheritance,
  • Loss of love and companionship, and
  • Possible punitive damages.

Some of these damages have explicit money values—for example, loss of earnings, funeral costs, and medical costs. These can be demonstrated by things like bills and pay stubs from hospitals and employers respectively. Economic damages, provided the right calculations are made and the correct documents are collected, can be proven in a relatively straightforward manner.

However, noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering and loss of consortium are intangible and do not have a defined monetary value. Your attorney can help you estimate their value and prove it through evidence such as witness testimony. For example, for loss of love and companionship damages, the persons affected may provide testimony about what the deceased meant to them and how their suffering is deserving of monetary compensation. Noneconomic damages are controversial for being hard to define due to their abstractness. Nonetheless, the victim’s representative has the full right to press the responsible party for all relevant noneconomic damages.

We’re Here to Help

Should a loved one suffer a wrongful death in Washington State, do not hesitate to reach out to our lawyers at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC today. We have helped victims recover millions of dollars in damages, and some of our case results include the largest wrongful death settlements in several Washington state counties. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you.

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.