Death is a certainty in life, but we never expect to lose a loved one before it’s their natural time to go. Losing someone too soon is painful, and that pain may be amplified by the fact that someone else’s negligence led to their loss. The law recognizes the inherent difficulty of losing a loved one in this manner, and as a result, allows for wrongful death claims.
Just what is a wrongful death claim, though? What do you need to show to have your claim be successful? Read on to learn everything you need to know about pursuing wrongful death claims in Washington.
1. What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is a legal term for any death that is the result of someone else’s negligence, wrongful acts, or bad conduct. This is a pretty broad term, and, as a result, can apply to any number of situations.
For example, there were over 500 fatal car accidents in Washington in 2019. Car accidents happen for a number of reasons, but they are frequently caused by negligence on the part of one or more drivers. If someone drove too fast in poor weather or failed to signal and caused an accident that resulted in someone’s death, then they might be subject to a wrongful death lawsuit.
It’s important to note that wrongful death claims are a civil action rather than a criminal one. It may be possible that the person who caused a wrongful death will also be charged criminally, but that is a completely separate process. For the purposes of your wrongful death claim, it is not necessary for you to prove that there was any ill-intent.
2. Who Can File for Wrongful Death?
Washington allows a fairly broad range of people to pursue a wrongful death claim.
In general, the next of kin is the person who is entitled to file the claim. Traditionally, this meant that a surviving spouse, parent, or child of the person who died was eligible to file. In 2019, however, Washington broadened the right of action to parents and siblings of adult children.
Prior to the 2019 change, parents and siblings with wrongful death claims for adult children or siblings were only eligible to receive damages for financial losses. They are now eligible to receive a broader range of damages, including damages for things like pain and suffering.
3. What Kind of Damages Can You Receive?
You know that you may be eligible to receive damages for a loved one whose death was the result of someone else’s negligence, but what kind of damages can you receive?
In wrongful death claims, there are primarily two types of damages: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are any cost that you incurred as a result of your loved one’s death. This can include medical bills and loss of income as well as funeral expenses.
Non-economic damages are less tangible, but they include emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of marital consortium. For example, if you lost your husband, then you could claim all of these non-economic damages. If you’re a parent of an adult child, you might also be able to claim losses for loss of affection, guidance, and emotional support.
4. What Do You Need to Prove?
When you pursue a wrongful death claim in Washington, there are certain elements that you need to prove in order for your case to be successful.
In general, you need to prove that the person who caused the death of your loved one acted negligently and, but for their negligent or bad acts, your loved one would still be alive. For example, if someone ran a red light and hit your loved one, you would need to prove that the actor ran the red light and that the accident caused your loved one’s death.
5. When Should You File?
It’s hard to think about pursuing any type of legal action while you’re in the throes of grief. Unfortunately, Washington places a time limit on when you’re eligible to file a wrongful death claim. You have three years from the day that your loved one died to pursue any type of legal action against the person who caused their death.
All claims must be settled and lawsuits filed before the statute of limitations passes. Even if you aren’t close to three years, it’s a good rule of thumb to pursue your case as soon as possible to have better access to evidence and witnesses.
6. How Long Does the Process Take?
There’s no straightforward answer to this question because it depends on a number of factors. First, many wrongful death claims are resolved through settlements. Settlements take significantly less time than going to trial.
If you don’t get a settlement offer or want to take your chances in court, then it will depend upon how soon the court can hear your case. You also have to factor in delays due to witness availability and continuance motions from the opposing party.
If you’re trying to decide whether to settle or pursue a trial, it’s best to seek the advice of an attorney to help you make this decision.
7. Who Can Assist with Wrongful Death Claims
Many people assume that hiring an attorney is an expensive task and that you have to pay upfront for their services. As a result, they try to navigate the wrongful death legal process on their own. If you have a lot of legal savvy, this might work for you, but in reality, you’re not going to be as successful as you would have been if you had hired an attorney.
Many attorneys accept cases on a contingency basis. This means that they do not get paid unless you do. Their payment comes from a portion of the settlement or damages award you receive.
Will an attorney ultimately cost you money? Yes, but they will also dramatically increase your chances of succeeding on your claim and the amount of money you receive. This is why hiring an attorney is absolutely critical to the success of your case.
Do You Have a Wrongful Death Case?
Dealing with the grief of losing a loved one is stressful, but struggling financially as a result of their death takes your stress to another level. Pursuing wrongful death claims can help compensate you for your loss and ease the financial burdens associated with their loss.
The first step to recovering from your loss is finding a Washington attorney to assist you with your case. The associates at Sweet Lawyers are here for you. Contact us today to learn how we can assist you with your wrongful death case.