Washington’s Law on the Wrongful Death of a Child

Washington State authorizes a parent to recover damages for the loss of a minor child, as long as the parent has regularly contributed to the support of the child.  The requirement that a parent must regularly contribute to the support of the child has been a recent change to the law. This change was made to prevent a parent (oftentimes, the father) who never or rarely supported the child during the child’s lifetime from profiting financially from the child’s death.

The question of whether the parent regularly contributed to the support of the child is a question of fact. This means that there is no narrow legal definition of what it means to “regularly contribute to the support of the child.” This determination will depend on the specific facts of the case. In the end, a judge or jury  will weigh the evidence and facts to determine whether a non-custodial parent has proven that he or she supported the child during the child’s lifetime.

In the context of the specific wrongful death statute, the term "support" generally means to provide for a child's needs for housing, food, clothing, education and health care. Usually, a non-custodial father who is obligated by a court order to make child support payments can meet this requirement by showing compliance with the order.  Presumably, a parent who pays child support every month is one who regularly contributes to the support of a child.

Nonetheless, the question of whether a parent regularly supports a child may not be easily answered in some cases. If a parent is behind in payinghis or her child support, would he or she be unable to recover a settlement? What if the parent pays for some types of support (like food and housing), but not others (like insurance and private school)? In the end, a judge or jury will determine whether the parent’s financial support has been adequate enough to justify a damage award.