The Personal Representative: A Prerequisite to Filing
Before filing a wrongful death lawsuit, Washington state law requires the appointment of a personal representative (PR) for the deceased’s estate. The court essentially grants the personal representative the authority, and they may commence a suit for wrongful death. It’s important to point out this person is acting on behalf of the deceased’s estate. A personal representative isn’t necessarily personally entitled to any of the proceeds because they are filing the lawsuit.
The appointment of a personal representative happens in a probate action. A probate action is a legal proceeding that manages and finalizes the deceased person’s estate. It involves accounting for assets and liabilities and dividing any remaining proceeds and assets among surviving relatives. The wrongful death lawsuit may commence once the probate action is started and there’s an approved personal representative.
Identifying the Real Parties in Interest
Washington State law recognizes several categories of individuals who have the right to sue for wrongful death. These individuals are often referred to as real parties in interest. While each case is unique, these parties can be:
- Immediate family members. This category includes spouses, children (including step-children and adopted children), and parents of unmarried children.
- Life or domestic partners, financial dependents, and putative spouses. A life or domestic partner, anyone financially dependent on the decedent, or a putative spouse can also seek compensation. A putative spouse is someone who believes in good faith they were married to the victim.
- Other family members: In some cases, more distant family members like siblings might be allowed to file a wrongful death suit.
If you have questions about who may sue for wrongful death, contact the Washington wrongful death lawyers at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC.
The Role of the Personal Representative
While technically anyone can be appointed as the personal representative in a wrongful death lawsuit, the court typically prefers a reputable and trustworthy individual. Persons with a criminal background, particularly involving fraud or dishonesty, may be excluded. Often, this person is a close family member or friend of the deceased, but in some cases, a professional, such as a lawyer, can serve this role.
In Washington, surviving family members can initiate only one wrongful death lawsuit. However, there might be multiple claims within that one case, depending on who surviving family members are. For example, there might be separate damages depending on the beneficiaries. These claims could encompass survivors’ economic losses, funeral and healthcare expenses, injuries related to the loss of relationships, and more.
Contact a Washington Wrongful Death Lawyer
Dealing with the aftermath of unexpectedly losing a family member due to another party’s negligence brings additional stress. You and your family should concentrate on grieving and healing, not arguing with insurance adjusters and defense attorneys. Knowing Washington State’s wrongful death laws and who is allowed to sue for wrongful death is crucial for ensuring justice and compensation for survivors.
As laws and specifics can differ dramatically depending on the circumstances, seeking legal advice from an experienced wrongful death attorney is often the best course of action. At Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, we explore all legal avenues and work tirelessly to fight for the possible outcome. With more than four decades of experience with wrongful death cases, we can answer all your questions about who can sue for wrongful death in Washington. Contact us today.