How Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work in Washington?


More than 167,000 people die each year in the United States from an accidental injury.

While accidents happen, many of these deaths occur as the result of another party’s negligence.

If your loved one died as a result of negligence in the State of Washington, you may have the right to recover damages. Keep reading to learn more about how wrongful death lawsuits work in Washington and what to do if you might have a claim. 

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

To understand your rights as a victim in a wrongful death case, you first need to understand how wrongful death is defined in Washington.

Wrongful death is outlined in The Revised Code of Washington, RCW 4.20.010, Wrongful death- Right of action. This statute gives family members, dependents, and registered domestic partners the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and recover damages if their loved one is wrongfully killed. The law gives these parties to right to seek compensation for financial and emotional loss.

On July 28, 2019, the code was updated to give loved ones even more recovery rights. These changes apply to pending cases as well as those where the statute of limitations has not run. Your attorney can tell you more about these changes and whether they affect your wrongful death case. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The parties who can file a wrongful death lawsuit are outlined in RCW, 4.20.020, Wrongful death- Beneficiaries of action. This legislation lists the legal beneficiaries in a wrongful death case as the decedent’s spouse, registered domestic partner, and children or stepchildren.

If the decedent has no spouse, registered domestic partner, or children, then their parents or siblings may be considered legal beneficiaries. 

Causes of Wrongful Death

Accidental deaths occur every day under a variety of circumstances. Some of these deaths could have been prevented because they were the result of someone else’s negligence. It’s in these cases that there exists a legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Your right to file a lawsuit will depend on the circumstances surrounding your loved one’s death. The following are some of the most common causes of wrongful death that may allow you to seek and recover damages:

  • Auto accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Slip and falls
  • Drowning
  • Medical malpractice

Determining Liability

In a wrongful death case, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that another party was at fault for the wrongful death. Under Washington law, more than one party can be legally liable for causing a wrongful death.

This means that you can recover from each responsible party. 

Wrongful Death Damages

In a wrongful death case, the decedent’s personal representative can file a lawsuit for multiple types of damages. These damages can be broken down into two groups – economic damages and non-economic damages. 

Economic Damages

Economic damages in a wrongful death case are more easily calculated. These damages include those that the decedent could have recovered in a personal injury lawsuit if they were still living as well as those out of pocket expenses incurred on their behalf relating to their death.

Economic damages typically include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of future earnings
  • Ambulance bills and medical transportation costs
  • Plastic surgery
  • Funeral expenses
  • Domestic replacement services including cooking and cleaning services
  • Therapy
  • Medical prosthetics and mobility devices

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages, while equally as important, can be more difficult to objectively calculate. These damages are determined by the court based on emotional, psychological, and lifestyle factors.

The personal representative of the decedent can file a lawsuit for non-economic damages based on what the decedent could have recovered in a personal injury lawsuit if they were still living. Non-economic damages typically include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of bodily function
  • Permanent disability and limitations
  • Scarring and permanent disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium

Beneficiaries’ Damages

In a wrongful death case, the beneficiaries of the decedent may also file a lawsuit to recover their own damages. These include both economic and non-economic damages, both past and future.

Each beneficiary of the decedent can recover their own damages. The specific damages you may be entitled to recover will be determined by the court and based on your relationship with the decedent.

Common economic and non-economic damages that a beneficiary can recover include:

  • Financial support
  • Money, goods, and services,
  • Loss of expected inheritance
  • Loss of consortium
  • Emotional support including love, care, guidance, affection, and other services

The Statute of Limitations

In each state, the law provides a specific amount of time for loved ones to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is called the statute of limitations.

In Washington, the statute of limitations is three years. This means that if you don’t file a lawsuit within three years from the date of your loved one’s death, you will lose your right to recover damages.

If you have a claim but have not yet settled it before the statute of limitations expires, you likely won’t be able to recover anything for your loss. For this reason, it’s important to discuss your options with an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. 

Learning More About Wrongful Death Cases

Understanding all the nuances of wrongful death lawsuits can be challenging, especially when you are grieving the loss of a loved one.

This is why it’s so important to have a skilled and experienced attorney on your side. Your wrongful death attorney will explain all of your rights and options and guide you through the claims process to get you the compensation you deserve.

Click here to contact us today for a free case evaluation and to learn more about your rights as a victim of wrongful death in the State of Washington. 

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