The loss of a parent, child, or other type of loved one can have a devastating impact on families. In Washington state, as well as in many other states in the U.S., surviving loved ones may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the person, business, or entity who is responsible for the loved one's death.
Before a lawsuit may commence, a person called a Personal Representative (PR) must first be appointed by the court on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. The PR is the only person who can actually file and prosecute a wrongful death action. A separate document (called a petition) must be filed in court which asks the judge to specifically appoint the PR. Oftentimes, the PR may also be a wrongful death beneficiary, like a surviving spouse or adult child.
The PR is not the only person who may receive benefits as the result of a wrongful death lawsuit. Being appointed PR simply means that person would take the lead in carrying out a lawsuit and be entrusted to make important decisions about the case, such as whether to hire an attorney, whether to accept a settlement offer, and so on.
How is a Personal Representative Appointed?
If the court accepts the person designated as the PR, then an order is entered giving that person all of the rights and obligations that come with this position. If a potential wrongful death claim exists, then family members should promptly arrange to meet and/or hire an experienced wrongful death attorney so that the process to appoint a PR can begin immediately.
Since it can take weeks or months for a court to appoint the PR, the process may delay when a separate wrongful death lawsuit may be filed and prosecuted against the responsible wrongdoers.
You should know that the PR has certain duties to the estate and surviving beneficiaries, much like an executor or executrix in other states. The courts have stated that the PR is merely a statutory agent or trustee who acts in favor of the designated beneficiaries.
Personal Representative's Role in Wrongful Death Claims
Also, the PR does not recover compensation or damages in the wrongful death action, unless the PR is also a wrongful death beneficiary. In some cases, the PR may be permitted to recover a fee for the amount of time spent devoted to litigating the case, responding to discovery requests, etc.
Since the PR is the only person authorized to file and prosecute a wrongful death claim, one of the first things to do may be to get the PR appointed by the court so a lawsuit can be filed promptly. If someone other than the PR files the wrongful death lawsuit the court will dismiss the action if requested by the defendant.
Therefore, it is very important that the parents or other family representatives consult with an experienced attorney to properly file the petition and obtain the order appointing a PR before the wrongful death action is filed.
Contact An Attorney To Learn More
Wrongful death claims are often extremely complex, particularly in situations where there are multiple beneficiaries or if the defendants are powerful. It is always a good idea to consult with a qualified attorney who has experience handling serious wrongful death cases to learn more about your legal rights, whether the attorney believes you have a case, and what courses of action are available to the surviving loved ones.
Since most wrongful death lawyers offer free legal consultations, there is typically no obligation associated with consulting with an attorney. At Davis Law Group, we also work on a contingency fee basis which means there are no up-front costs associated with hiring our team to pursue a wrongful death action.
Call (206) 727-4000 today to request a free case review with our experienced legal team. We will help you better understand your legal rights after a life-changing accident and explain how hiring a lawyer may improve the chances of a favorable outcome.