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.
But what if a parent misses several months of support, or the parent owes several thousands of dollars in back support? What if the parent pays for some types of support (like food and housing), but not others (like insurance and private school)? Did the parent regularly support the child in those situations? Those questions are not easily answered. The judge or jury would have to determine whether a parent who owes back child support can also "regularly" contribute to the support of the child for purposes of recovering damages in an action for the wrongful death of that child.
Washington's wrongful death law only creates one cause of action, meaning that only one lawsuit may be commenced against the party responsible for the child's death. But if the child's parents are not married, or are separated, then damages may be awarded to each parent separately as the jury or judge finds just and equitable. If one parent brings the wrongful death lawsuit, and the other parent is not named in the lawsuit, then the non-named parent is entitled to receive notice of the suit including a copy of the complaint that is filed in court. Notice must be accomplished by personal service. This requirement of notifying the other parent only applies if that parent's paternity has been established, which is usually accomplished by a court or administrative order.
The notice to the other parent must state that this parent must join as a party to the suit within twenty days or the right to recover damages under this section shall be barred. The failure of the other parent to timely appear in the lawsuit shall bar that parent's right to recover any part of an award made to the other parent who has instituted the lawsuit. There may be exceptions, like when one parent is out of the country or in the military. Unfortunately, the language of the statute does not address these types of situations. In any event, the parent who has been properly notified of the lawsuit should act promptly and consult with experienced legal counsel.
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