Losing a loved one due to a wrongful death accident is a life-altering experience. When a family member’s life is suddenly cut short because of another person or company’s careless or negligent act, the grief and feelings of loss are overwhelming. No one is ever prepared for such a tragic event.
In the midst of a tragic loss, it can be difficult to make decisions about the future. It is vital for victims’ families to understand their legal rights before accepting a wrongful death settlement. In many cases, surviving family members may benefit from the assistance of an experienced wrongful death attorney.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?
Washington state law defines wrongful death as a fatality which is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person. That means if a loved one was killed as a result of someone else’s carelessness, whether it is an individual or a company, it may be considered a wrongful death.
An important distinction to note is that if there was any intent to harm, that would fall under criminal law rather than civil. In order for a claim to be made, there has to be some kind of insurance covering the situation. If someone is killed from an intentional act, it is unlikely the insurance that may be present would have to cover the at-fault party.
Even though deaths that are caused by an intentional act as every bit as tragic and ones caused by an accident, intent has historically absolved insurance companies of any liability, leaving the aggrieved family with nothing.
Who Can File a Claim for Wrongful Death
According to RCW 4.20.020, action for a wrongful death can be taken by the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner, or children. If they did not have a spouse or children, then a claim can be made by the surviving parents or siblings of the deceased.
This law was expanded after the 2015 Ride the Ducks crash on the Aurora bridge in Seattle. Previously, only financially dependent family members could file a claim to recover damages for the wrongful death of their loved one.
That meant that if the victim had no spouse or children, it was very difficult, if not impossible, for any surviving family members to receive financial compensation. Many complexities still exist on the road to filing a wrongful death claim, but the updated law makes it a little bit easier for families to get a sense of justice.
What Damages Are Recoverable for Wrongful Death Claims?
A number of factors are considered when determining what surviving family members can recover after the loss of their loved one. Perhaps the most important is the level of insurance the at-fault party has. As long as there is ample policy coverage, claims can be made for:
- Medical bills and expenses. In many wrongful death claims, hospitals expect their bills to be paid even if the patient dies. Grieving families are often left with costly bills for medical treatment and other expenses. An experienced wrongful death lawyer may even be able to negotiate with medical providers and reduce these costs.
- Lost wages and loss of future earnings. If the surviving loves ones were financially dependent on the deceased victim, the claimants may be able to recover damages for the financial support that they have lost. The amount of damages are usually based on the victim’s current, past, and future earnings, as well as education and future job prospects.
- Pain and suffering. Not all accident victims pass away immediately. If a victim experienced significant pain and suffering before their death, a qualified wrongful death lawyer may factor that into the claim for damages.
- Loss of consortium. Not all damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are economic. Family members grieving the untimely death of a loved one can also request compensation for their own suffering, including the loss of their loved one’s companionship.
- Funeral expenses. Even a simple burial can cost family members tens of thousands of dollars. These damages can also be recovered in many wrongful death cases.
How Long Do You Have To File A Wrongful Death Claim?
The Statute of Limitations for wrongful death cases in Washington is three years from the date of the incident. That number can be affected by several factors but generally, that is the rule. An important thing to remember is that the act of filing a claim does not stop the clock completely. Starting the negotiation process with an insurance company does not mean the Statue of Limitations is no longer relevant. Filing a lawsuit is the only way to stop the Statute of Limitations from expiring.
Insurance companies are notorious for making the negotiation and settlement process as difficult and time consuming as possible, presumably as a tactic to try to let the Statute of Limitations expire. If the statute does expire, it does not necessarily mean you will get nothing, but it does remove any incentive for the insurance company to offer you anything, so it is extremely unlikely you will recover any damages after those three years are up. Because of this, it is important to consult with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to avoid potentially missing the Statute of Limitations cutoff during the negotiation process.
Free Wrongful Death Legal Consultation With An Attorney
The process of recovering damages for the wrongful death of a loved one is long and emotionally taxing. Family members should be able to manage the grieving process, instead of worrying about the constant battle with insurance companies, keeping deadlines straight or paying medical bills or funeral costs. An experienced wrongful death lawyer can add significant value to victims and their families in a variety of ways.
The award-winning legal team at Davis Law Group has decades of experience representing people in wrongful death claims. We offer free case evaluations to help surviving loved ones determine if hiring a wrongful death attorney will add value to your claim. To request a free consultation with Davis Law Group, call 206-727-4000 or use the contact form or chat options on this page.