Let’s now look at different family relationships to help you get a feel for the interaction between the family relationship each claimant had with the deceased along with the elements of compensation which might be available under Washington law. Keep in mind the application of the other seven factors in determining the value of your case. As always, consulting with an experienced wrongful death attorney will help you determine how these factors may impact your claim.
1. Parents’ Action for the Death of a Minor Child. The intense loss of the relationship between parent and child is the most valuable damage element in this type of case. The value of this claim will primarily depend on the strength of the parent-child relationship. If the parent was heavily involved in the child’s life, then the claim may have significant value. Likewise, if the parent was estranged from the child, then the claim may not have much value at all. The value of this claim may also be influenced by how bad or egregious the wrongdoer’s conduct was that caused the child’s death.
If the deceased child is older, then it may be possible to persuasively present the expected economic benefits which would have flowed from the child to the parent, or the future of lifetime earnings which can be recovered by the estate. The reasoning is that a two-year-old is pretty much a blank slate, while a teenager’s future professional or earnings ability may be more easily charted. If you can show that the child had very good future earnings prospects, then the economic loss to the child’s estate could also be substantial.
2. Spouse and Children’s Action for Death of Spouse/Parent. Usually, the most valuable wrongful death case is the immediate family’s claims for the wrongful death of a spouse and parent. Insurance companies are more likely to value these claims higher because they are valued more highly by juries. If the deceased spouse/parent was the primary earner, then often the economic loss represents the highest damages portion of the case. The spouse and each child are permitted to recover damages equal to the expected contributions and future net earnings that each would have received from the deceased.
Other factors may also influence the perceived value of this claim, such as the “worthiness” of the family members to be compensated for the death of the deceased, and the perceived “worth” of the deceased’s life. If the surviving spouse and children are perceived as likeable, trustworthy, and sympathetic then the value of the wrongful death case could be worth millions. This is especially true if the deceased was a high income earner.
3. Adult Child’s Action for Death of Elderly Parent. The value of an adult child’s claim for the wrongful death of an elderly parent is also very dependent upon the closeness of the relationship between them. Most juries will judge adult children claims as much less sympathetic then if the surviving children are minors and financially dependent on the deceased. There are exceptions, of course, especially if the defendant’s conduct that gave rise to the death is particularly egregious or heinous.
4. Sibling’s Action for Death of Another Sibling. Remember, Washington law states that a surviving sibling may only maintain a wrongful death action if that sibling was financially dependent on the deceased. So the first hurdle is to prove that the deceased sibling was supporting the surviving sibling. If no such proof exists, then no claim exists. If there is proof of financial dependence, the dependence must be substantial according to Washington law. If evidence of financial dependence exists, then the surviving sibling is allowed to recover damages for the loss of his or her relationship with the deceased. Again, the strength of the siblings’ relationship will be important to establishing how valuable this claim may be.