As a prominent fatal accident injury lawyer with experience in handling wrongful death claims, attorney Chris Davis is often featured by local or national new media covering fatal accident issues and/or some of his cases. You may have him on local stations such as KING5, KOMO4, KIRO7 and Q13Fox.
Washington state law dictates that surviving loved ones can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in the event that a death is caused by negligence or misconduct of another person or entity. The wrongful death lawyers at Davis Law Group in Seattle have handled some of the most complex wrongful death cases in Washington state, and we can help you better understand your legal rights during this difficult time.
Washington State Wrongful Death Laws
Simply put, Washington state law permits the surviving family members of a person who has been killed by the wrongful act or negligence of another person to pursue a lawsuit against the responsible party or parties.
Specifically, the Revised Code Of Washington (RCW 4.20.010) states:
"When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect or default of another, his personal representative may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death."
Many states, including Washington, limit the ability to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit to certain family members of the deceased. The tiers of beneficiaries who are permitted to pursue a wrongful death claim can be difficult to understand without the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
There are a number of factors that affect a person's ability to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a decedent. The basis for a wrongful death claim isn't just that the deceased was killed as a result of negligence. There must also be a surviving family member who qualifies to be appointed as personal representative - also called the beneficiary - for the deceased.
There are multiple tiers of beneficiaries who may potentially bring a wrongful death lawsuit. The first tier of beneficiaries includes the surviving spouse and/or children of the decedent. If there are no eligible first-tier beneficiaries, then second-tier beneficiaries - typically parents and/or siblings - may be able to bring a lawsuit.
According to RCW 4.20.020:
"Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren, of the person whose death shall have been so caused. If there is no wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, or such child or children, such action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters, or brothers, who may be dependent upon the deceased person for support, and who reside within the United States at the time of his death. In every such action, the jury may give damages as, under all circumstances of the case, may to them seem just."
Most Common Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Sadly, there are a number of ways in which the loss of a loved one may be considered a wrongful death, meaning that the death was due to negligence of another person or entity. Some of the more common types of fatal accidents in Washington state include:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents. Car and truck accidents are a leading cause of death in the United States and throughout the world. When an innocent driver is killed due to the negligence of another driver or party, the at-fault driver's insurance policy should provide financial compensation to the surviving family members.
- Bicycle Accidents. Bicyclists are especially vulnerable to serious injury or death in the event of a collision, because bicycles do not protect riders from impact with a car or truck. Again, the at-fault driver who causes a fatal collision should be held responsible and his or her insurance company will typically cover the damages that result from a fatal crash.
- Semi-Truck Accidents. Commercial trucks often weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds, making them capable of causing serious injury or death in the event of a crash. Because large trucks are unable to stop as quickly as passenger vehicles, it is very common for victims to suffer fatal injuries in an accident.
- Drunk Driving Collisions. Alcohol-impairment slows reaction time and greatly increases the chances of a collision. Because so many drunk driving crashes are head-on, the chances of serious injury or death is significantly higher.
- Motorcycle Accidents. Motorcyclists, like bicyclists, are not afforded any protection by their own vehicles in the event of an accident. Motorcyclists are often thrown from their bikes in even minor collisions, which greatly increases the chances of serious injury or death.
- Pedestrian Accidents. These collisions are more likely to occur when visibility is difficult, and pedestrians are more likely to suffer serious injury or death due to their own increased vulnerability.
- Dog Bites & Animal Attacks. Dog bites & animal attacks are rarely fatal, but infections and other health complications can lead to death. In fact, our attorneys have handled dog bite cases that have transformed into wrongful death cases after the victims developed major infections.
- Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect. Nursing home and hospice residents are especially vulnerable due to the nature of their needs and limitations. When a nursing home puts profits above patient safety, the responsible parties should be held responsible for their actions.
Regardless of the estimated cause of death, any form of negligence which results in loss of life may be considered a wrongful death and have grounds for pursuing a lawsuit against the at-fault party. Consulting with an attorney about a fatal accident may help you better understand your legal rights and if pursuing a claim is in your best interests.
How Long Do I Have To File A Wrongful Death Claim?
The Statute of Limitations (SOL) for a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington is typically three years from the date of the incident, but that can depend upon a number of factors. The bottom line is that surviving family members do have a limited amount of time before the case will be barred forever, so it's best to contact an attorney immediately to ensure the case is not jeopardized.
There are also a number of common mistakes people make that can severely damage your case, so it's usually best to consult with an attorney before communicating with the insurance companies. Contact our award-winning attorneys before speaking with any insurance company representatives to ensure you do not make any of these critical mistakes.
How Much is a Wrongful Death Case Worth?
Every single wrongful death case is unique; it’s not possible at the start of a case to predict with complete accuracy what the final settlement or verdict will be. Some of the factors that affect the overall value of a wrongful death case include:
- The negligent party’s insurance policy. In cases where a fatal accident was caused by a private individual with a car insurance policy or homeowner’s policy, it is highly unlikely that even the best lawyer will be able to recover more than the available policy limits. However, cases involving a negligent company or department of the government may have much higher limits, or no limits at all, on what may be claimed.
- The identity of the person who died. As crass as it may sound, insurance companies try to calculates the monetary value of a person’s life. This is often based on the income they earned or would have earned. In cases that go to trial, the jury’s own perception of the victim may also affect how much money they award.
- The identity of the claimant. In Washington state, only certain family members are allowed to file a claim for compensation after a wrongful death. State law also places restrictions on when people who are not citizens of the United States are allowed to file a claim in wrongful death cases. For example, a boyfriend or girlfriend of a victim is usually not allowed to file a wrongful death claim.
- The circumstances of the death. If the victim experienced a great deal of pain and suffering before their passing, their family may have an additional claim for damages.
- Willingness to go to trial. Many grieving families would prefer not to add the additional stress of preparing for trial to their lives. However, attorneys who are at least willing to take a case to trial typically receive higher damages and insurance companies will often offer a more generous settlement to avoid a costly trial.
- The quality of the law firm you choose. While all lawyers who have passed the bar may technically be allowed to handle a wrongful death case, very few will have the necessary experience to get the best possible results for their clients. Many firms that take wrongful death cases practice many different areas of law, or they take on a high volume of cases and try to close them as quickly as possible. More modest firms that only take personal injury and wrongful death cases tend to devote more time to each case they take.
Common Legal Questions About Wrongful Death
When a spouse, parent, sibling or other loving relative of a wrongful death victim first contacts our office, they often have questions about who is responsible for the accident happened and are worried about how they will pay bills and expenses. Some other common questions include:
- What type of expert witnesses may be used on a wrongful death case?
- Why wasn't something done to prevent our loved one’s death?
- How can we survive emotionally and financially after this tragedy?
- How will we pay the medical bills and funeral costs?
- How will we manage living expenses without our loved one's financial support?
- Is there anything we can do to protect the reputation of our departed loved one?
- How can we make sure that this kind of accident never happens again?
Free Wrongful Death Legal Consultation
The wrongful death lawyers at Davis Law Group are ready review your wrongful death case free of charge. If we believe we can help improve the chances of a successful outcome for your case, we will meet with you for a free legal consultation to discuss your case in more detail and explain why hiring an attorney is in your best interests.
Call our office in Seattle at (206) 727-4000 or use the confidential contact form to request a free consultation with our wrongful death attorneys.It is important to note that there are other factors that affect a person's ability to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a decedent. The basis for a wrongful death claim isn't just that the deceased was killed as a result of negligence. There must also be a surviving family member who qualifies to be appointed as personal representative - also called the beneficiary - for the deceased.