The phrase "dependent for support" is interpreted by the courts to mean financial dependence. A parent of an adult child must be financially dependent on the child at the time of the child's death as a condition to recovering damages for the wrongful death of that adult child. The statute also requires the parent to be a resident of the United States at the time of the adult child's death.
Take for example the case where an adult man dies in a traffic accident caused by another person. The man is married and has two children. In that situation, the man's surviving wife and children can maintain a cause of action for wrongful death against the other driver. If that man is unmarried with no children, the man's surviving parents may bring a wrongful death action but only if the parents can show they were financially dependent on their son at the time of his death. This requirement is part of a law that was first enacted more than 100 years ago, when it was much more common for adult children to financially support their parents. Today most parents are financially independent and do not need to rely on the financial assistance of their children. As a result, the law as it stands now can cause some very unjust results.
Take for example the child whose wrongful death is caused shortly after the child's 18th birthday. In that situation, the parents have no legal means to recover against the responsible party. Not unless the parents can show that they were financially dependent on their young child - a situation that almost never occurs. The law definitely needs to be changed to reflect the current norms of society involving the relationship of parents with their adult children. A parent does not have to be financially dependent on an adult child before the death of that child will cause a significant amount of pain and loss for that parent regardless of the financial consequences of death. For this reason the law should be changed to remove the financial dependence condition.
Christopher M. Davis is a Seattle attorney focusing personal injury cases. He is also known as a child accident lawyer and has written the the book 'Little Kids, Big Accidents' as a resource for parents of injured children. Learn more about Chris Davis and the Davis Law Group by visiting http://www.DavisLawGroupSeattle.com