When an accident results due to someone’s negligence and a loved one dies as a result, family members have the right to file what is called a “wrongful death” claim against the negligent party.
Wrongful death claims are complicated. Therefore, if you are thinking of filing a lawsuit for a loved one’s death, you should consult an attorney. The law limits who can file, how long you have to file, and even the compensation amount you can request. Furthermore, proving these claims are complicated – and not something a grieving family member should have to deal with alone.
While you wait for your consultation with the attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, we have created a list of common questions asked by our clients. Do note that these answers do not substitute actual legal advice, and you should still ask these questions to your attorney during your consultation.
Common Questions Asked by Seattle-Area Families Filing Wrongful Death Lawsuits
You are likely to have lots of questions regarding your wrongful death lawsuit. Make sure that you write down each question you think of so that you have an entire list prepared for your consultation.
The attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC proudly serve families throughout the Seattle, Bellingham, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane and surrounding cities of Washington. We are here to answer your questions and ensure you are fully informed about wrongful death claims, your rights, and your options.
Here are some questions our attorneys commonly receive:
What constitutes a wrongful death?
Each state has their definition of wrongful death. In Washington, wrongful death is the death of an individual caused by the negligent, defective, or wrongful acts or another person. The action would have resulted in a personal injury lawsuit if the victim had not died.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington?
Washington allows family members to file a wrongful death case against the at-fault party. However, the state requires that a personal representative file the lawsuit on behalf of the estate. A spouse can file that lawsuit as the representative. If no spouse exists, then a surviving child may file the lawsuit.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits have up to three years after the death to file. If you do not file your wrongful death lawsuit in three years, the court may refuse to hear it. While you have up to three years, you should not push the timeline too far. The longer you wait, the more you risk that witnesses will be unavailable, evidence harder to track down, and expenses more difficult to calculate.
It is best to consult an attorney immediately after you suspect that a wrongful death occurred.
How is the amount of compensation determined?
Compensation, referred to as damages in your lawsuit, calculate based on specific factors in your loved one’s death. Numerous expenses are considered, including the contributions of the deceased to the family, life expectancy, overall health, total medical costs, total loss of contribution, past earnings, future earnings, and their occupation.
The only way to accurately determine how much compensation you would receive is to speak with an attorney.
The Two Types of Damages
In a wrongful death claim, you have two primary damage types: economic and non-economic.
- Economic Damages: Economic damages are the actual financial losses your family incurs, including loss of future wages, loss of benefits, medical expenses, loss of inheritance, and funeral costs.
- Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages focus on those without a dollar amount assigned, such as mental anguish, emotional suffering, loss of protection, loss of companionship, and loss of consortium.
How are damages divided among heirs?
When you have a personal representative file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate, the compensation would then be divided among surviving family members. The majority of compensation received would go to the surviving spouse and children. If there is no agreement in place, such as an estate plan, the court may decide how much compensation goes to each family member.
Can you recover punitive damages?
Most wrongful death claims do not see punitive damages. However, if the at-fault party was grossly negligent or the death was caused by a malicious act committed by the defendant, the court may allow punitive damages. In these cases, the defendant would pay an additional fine to the family for their actions.
Punitive damages are not designed to compensate the family; instead, they punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent to others in the community.
Can heirs hire separate attorneys?
Technically, loved ones could all hire separate attorneys for their wrongful death case. Sometimes, this is necessary when family members disagree on the course of action or if there is hostility. However, heirs should work together and try to avoid bringing in multiple litigators. Doing so only decreases the value of compensation the estate receives.
Do I have to go to court for a wrongful death lawsuit?
As with any civil proceeding, you may go to court for the wrongful death lawsuit. However, most lawsuits settle out of court because both sides wish to reduce total costs.
No one can predict if a case will go to trial or not. Therefore, you still want to hire an attorney with trial experience. An attorney willing to take your case all the way to trial is more likely to yield a successful outcome than one who avoids trial.
Do I have to hire an attorney for my wrongful death claim?
While you are not obligated to hire a wrongful death attorney, it may be in your best interest to do so. A wrongful death attorney knows Washington statutes for these case types, can negotiate with the other side, and work toward a favorable settlement.
Furthermore, an attorney has no emotional ties to the outcome of a case. When you are grieving, it is hard to remain objective. You need a third party that can hold objectivity and give you time to grieve your loss.
Speak with a Wrongful Death Attorney in Washington Today
After the loss of a loved one, the last thing you need to worry about is the legal process. Instead, hire an attorney that has experience with wrongful death claims.
There is no fee to have the attorneys at Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner, PLLC, review your case. We offer free consultations, and there is no fee if you hire us unless we recover compensation.
Get started by meeting with a wrongful death attorney today. Schedule your consultation at 206-488-1462 or request more information online.