When Does a Death Qualify for Wrongful Death?
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When Does a Death Qualify for Wrongful Death?

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Posted on February 21, 2023

The aftermath of a loved one’s death is always a distressing, emotionally wrought time, but when the death was unexpected and preventable, it’s even more traumatic for loved ones left behind. Family members who’ve lost a loved one suffer the emotional and economic hardships that come from losing the support and guidance of a parent, the companionship and comfort of a spouse, or the devotion of a loved and nurtured child. While all deaths feel “wrong” for those who’ve been left behind, in order for a death to qualify as a wrongful death under Washington law, it must be more than tragic—it must meet specific legal standards before the survivors can make a claim for wrongful death in order to recover damages such as medical costs, funeral expenses, and loss of the income and benefits the loved one would have provided as well as the loss of companionship, care, guidance, and support. Family members may also recover compensation for the grief and anguish they’ve experienced.

What Are the Standards for a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington?

A person’s death meets the legal standards for wrongful death when the death directly resulted from “the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” This means the law considers a death wrongful if it was caused by any action or inaction of another person or entity, for example:

  • A car accident with the other driver at fault due to reckless driving, DUI, or distracted driving
  • Medical malpractice cases resulting in a death
  • A work accident caused by negligence
  • Defective product accidents resulting in death
  • Commercial truck accidents causing death
  • Pedestrian accidents causing death
  • Birth injuries causing death
  • Deaths caused by nursing home abuse or neglect
  • Criminal assault deaths

When a loved one dies due to the negligence, wrongdoing, or recklessness of someone else, their surviving loved ones have the right to regain economic and noneconomic losses through a wrongful death lawsuit.

Proving a Wrongful Death Claim

A successful wrongful death claim requires the plaintiff to meet the following legally defined points to prove that the defendant was at fault for the death:

  • That the defendant owed a reasonable duty of care to the person, such as a driver owing others on the road the duty of care to drive responsibly, or a doctor owing a patient the duty of care to provide appropriate and timely healthcare at the highest acceptable standards
  • That the defendant breached their duty of care through an act of negligence, recklessness, or wrongdoing
  • That the breach of their duty resulted in the loved one’s death
  • That the family members suffered economic and non-economic damages as a result of the death.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington?

Washington’s revised code allows only certain survivors to file a wrongful death lawsuit, specifically those who suffer economic damages due to the death. According to Washington’s Revised Code (RCW) 4.20.020, those who may file a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • A spouse or the domestic partner of the deceased person
  • The biological children or stepchildren of the deceased
  • Parents or a sibling of the deceased only if they died without a spouse or children AND if the parents or sibling depended on the deceased for support

The law limits those who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to prevent distant relatives who did not depend on the decedent’s support from attempting to file claims.

How Long Does a Surviving Loved One Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington?

Washington places a time limit on wrongful death claims to protect defendants from the indefinite threat of lawsuits as well as to preserve the quality of evidence for a claim. In Washington, survivors have up to three years from the date of the death to file a wrongful death claim.

A Kent wrongful death attorney can evaluate your case and help you file a claim if your loved one died due to someone else’s fault.