“Wrongful death” is a legal term defined by Washington State law as “the death of a person [that] is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” The law goes on to say that the representative of the deceased can take action against the person accused of causing the wrongful death, whether through direct action, neglect, or default. Read on for what you need to know about wrongful death.
What Are Some Examples of Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death covers a wide variety of situations that lead to someone’s death. As noted above, the death must be attributable to someone else’s action, neglect, or default. Some common examples of wrongful death include:
- Vehicle accidents. This category is among the most common source of wrongful deaths. It includes everything from someone dying in a single-vehicle accident because the vehicle they drove was defective to someone being killed by a drunk driver or a commercial truck driver who fell asleep at the wheel.
- Workplace accidents. This can include anything from toxic chemicals used improperly to unsafe conditions not being mitigated by the company.
- Dog and animal attacks.
- Medical malpractice. This involves medical professionals who are negligent in a wide range of services, including misdiagnosis or lack of diagnosis and incorrect medication prescriptions or dosages, among others.
- Premises liability. This includes accidents commonly called “slip and falls,” resulting from improper personal or business property maintenance.
Who Can Pursue a Wrongful Death Case?
Washington State allows family members (known as “next of kin”) to pursue wrongful death cases. The state recognized two levels of the family:
- Spouses, registered domestic partners, and children. This is usually the household grouping and the people most likely to face detrimental changes because of the loss of one of the immediate family.
- Other family members, including parents and siblings of the deceased. Because wrongful death cases look at those affected by their economic dependence on the deceased, this group may be less likely to receive damages unless they can prove there was a financial tie to the deceased.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case in Washington State?
Washington State courts will weigh economic damages based on financial losses, whether past (if the deceased was hospitalized and unable to work before death) or future. They look at what the deceased would have been expected to earn if the accident never happened. That involves examining the age of the deceased and how long they might have continued working, the type of occupation (some occupations, such as airline pilots, have a required age limit), the health of the deceased at the time of the incident, their earning capacity and what they previously contributed financially to their household.
However, while economic damages are a prime focus, they’re not the only type of damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death case. The courts will also consider what’s called noneconomic damages.
For spouses and registered domestic partners, considerations include:
- Emotional support
- Love and affection
- Services or assistance, such as for a spouse with a disability
For other family members such as children, stepchildren, siblings, and surviving parents:
- Love and affection
Every wrongful death case is unique because there are so many factors involved. How much someone can expect to receive in a successful wrongful death case varies greatly. That’s why it’s vital to have an experienced, knowledgeable wrongful death attorney involved in your case as soon as possible.
What Evidence Is Need to Prove a Wrongful Death Case?
There are four conditions in a wrongful death case in Washington State. All four must be proven for the case to succeed.
- Duty of care. The person being sued (the defendant) owed the deceased a duty of care. That varies considerably depending on the circumstances of the death but could include something such as someone driving safely, an employer ensuring the workplace was safe, or a property owner keeping premises safe for visitors.
- Breach of the duty of care. The defendant failed to ensure the duty of care was reached.
- Causation. The breach of the duty of care directly led to the deceased’s death. For example, if a driver had taken a cab home rather than driving drunk, the deceased would not have died. This can be the most difficult to prove.
- Actual damages were incurred. Because the deceased died, those pursuing the case suffered actual economic and, often, noneconomic damages. The economic damages must be demonstrated by providing documentation of the economic loss incurred because of the person’s death.
What Should I Do if I Think I Have a Wrongful Death Case?
Then call Church & Page at 509-638-1414 to request a free consultation. We can help guide you through the specifics of your case and determine whether wrongful death applies and, if so, the best approach to developing a case.
Because the party involved in the wrongful death claim will want to avoid responsibility and having to pay damages, it’s likely that you may receive communication from their insurance representatives or attorneys. Don’t respond to them. They could try to convince you to say something indicating the deceased was at fault, not the defendant, or they could ask you to accept a much lower settlement than you’re eligible for. Forward all communications to your lawyer.