Legal rights can be claimed for a wrongful death if your family member died as a result of negligent actions. However, negligence does not always guarantee a legal claim.
In order to file a legal claim regarding wrongful death, ask yourself three questions.
First of all, did the guilty party responsible for the accident breach their legal duty?
In order to answer this question, determine whether or not the person responsible did not uphold their legal duty in respect to the injured party. Negligent actions are common but they do not always constitute compensation. The US Supreme Court, for example, ruled that you cannot sue the police if they don’t protect you just because you asked them to help you.
In 2005, a woman filed for a protective order against her ex-husband. Her ex-husband kidnapped their three children and she contacted the police to file a report. Despite making several requests for the police to find her husband and the children, they took no steps to do so. The father ultimately killed the three children, prompting the mother to sue the police department for failing to take action and find the children, but the Supreme Court turned down her suit because the police do not have to protect citizens upon request.
The next question you must answer is whether or not the person who caused harm did so in an unreasonable way and ended up breaching their legal duty.
This question is central to many personal injury and wrongful death cases. A clear example of a breach of a duty is when a driver fails to stop at a red light and causes a collision with another car. The purpose of statutes is to govern how we must act while driving and stopping at red lights is one of those laws. When someone fails to act responsibly and subsequently makes a mistake, they will be deemed negligent.
Negligence is a more difficult question in other contexts. In order to declare someone, like a doctor, as acting negligently in the healthcare industry, you would need to compare the actions of the doctor in question to one of his equals faced with the same situation. The term for this is “standard of care.” There are more variables when it comes to negligence with doctors than there are with drivers because the rules are the same for all drivers in every situation.
The third question is whether or not the negligent actor caused the death in the particular case.
For example, assume that someone falls from a horse while on vacation and breaks their neck. They schedule an appointment with a doctor who takes a spinal X-ray, and after viewing the results, tells the patient they are free to fly home. Assume also that this decision violates that standard of care because a reasonable doctor in that situation would not have allowed further travel due to the possibility of further harm resulting in death from the movements of travel.
Upon landing the patient is being driven to a hospital for care when his vehicle is struck by another driver. The patient only sustains minor trauma from the car crash, but due to his pre-existing injuries, the impact was enough to exacerbate his spinal injuries and he died from the additional damage to his neck. Negligence and responsibility for a wrongful death are hard to determine in situations like these.
As you can tell from the previous section, wrongful death cases can sometimes be difficult to analyze. The priority whenever a wrongful death occurs is to determine who acted negligently. This is a complicated question to answer and that is why wrongful death cases are considered so complicated. From there, it is best to turn to legal professionals. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations to discuss the details of your case. If you feel that you have a case concerning a wrongful death, the personal injury lawyers at Wiener & Lambka, PS, will meet with you during a free consultation to discuss the specifics of your situation. If it turns out that we are not able to help you with your case, we will direct you to someone who can.
The following categories of people are those allowed to file a wrongful death claim in the state of Washington:
· the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate
· the spouse or state registered domestic partner of the deceased person, and
· the child, children, or stepchildren of the deceased person.
The deceased person’s direct family can file a wrongful death claim on their behalf if they were not married or did not have children of their own. There are certain rules that exist for the wrongful deaths of children 18 years old and younger. If the parents are still married, they usually file a claim jointly rather than individually. In cases of divorce or where the parents were never married, only a parent who “regularly continued” to support the child may file or join a wrongful death claim. If one parent files a wrongful death claim, he or she must serve the other parent with a copy of the complaint within twenty days of filing the case in a Washington state court. The reason for notifying the other parent is that they deserve to know what is happening with their child’s case and it gives them the opportunity to partake in the suit if they want to be involved.
If an activity or event can cause an injury then it has the potential to also cause death. We accept wrongful death cases in all of our practice areas:
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First and foremost, contact an attorney. Not many people have an understanding of how to proceed after a wrongful death occurs, so that’s why a lawyer is your best bet when it comes to learning about the legal system and its protocols for these types of situations. In fact, many personal injury attorneys don’t fully understand each of these areas of law. Your case will be unique, no matter how commonplace a component of the case might be. An example of a case people think is a basic personal injury incident is a car crash where someone hit you or your loved one from behind. While the general details of this type of personal injury incident sound very simple, the specifics of the case make the incident more unique. The sooner you call upon legal assistance, the more prepared you can be for taking your case to court. Even if you learn nothing special, you will at least be re-assured then of how to do things the right way and not have regrets later. Otherwise, depending upon what area of law your wrongful death case involves, you can find our basic advice on what to do for the following situations here:
Most wrongful death cases in Washington generally have a three-year statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a date by which you must either resolve or properly file and serve your lawsuit against the negligent party. Failure to do so will result in the loss of your legal rights to compensation. Before assuming that your situation involves a wrongful death claim, look into the exact nature of the case because sometimes it is considered something else and the statute of limitations might differ. Assault, for example, has a two-year statute of limitations. Talk to an attorney as soon as you can to determine if you have a case. Before your statute of limitations runs out, you must file your legal suit for wrongful death otherwise you lose your legal rights. Moreover, lawsuits can be complicated. Aspects of your case, like figuring out who to sue, can become overwhelmingly difficult. We have even had clients come to us who did not obtain the name of the driver who negligently caused a collision with them. However, without this information, it makes it hard to proceed. Even with them, the insurance companies defending the cases that we see will take every opportunity to try to have a case dismissed if not properly filed and served. Even though the statute of limitations is three years, you are strongly encouraged to begin the process of filing a claim much sooner. Any case, no matter the nature of it, should be opened as soon as possible, but it is especially imperative that wrongful death cases are started immediately. Do not look at the statute of limitations as a deadline but rather something to know about and keep in mind when filing a claim. If you or someone you know has a personal injury case to report, the most important first step is contacting an attorney immediately.
Above all, whoever you hire should be someone you can trust. As with any legal case, your personal injury suit will either result in a settlement, or you, along with your attorney, will go to court and explain the case before a judge. Either way, you will depend to some degree on your attorney for advice. We advise all of our clients to seek advice and risk analyses from their lawyer because it is the attorney’s job to provide their client with important information. We do not make the big decisions on behalf of our clients. The client should be given the opportunity to make decisions for their own case, like whether the case is settled or goes to trial, how much to accept as compensation, and whether or not to go to trial. When you reach out to personal injury attorneys, they will usually listen to the details of your case during a free consultation and if they can help you, they’ll take your case on, but if they cannot assist you, they will refer you to someone who can. The details of every case need to be carefully analyzed and reviewed to make sure that everything is taken into account. The more important your case is to you, the more important it is that you promptly find legal advice on how to best handle it. When looking for an attorney, there are now many different resources to help you evaluate whom it is you hire. While not all ratings are equal, looking at all of the different pieces of information is still valuable. At Wiener & Lambka, PS, for example, we are very proud that almost all former clients endorse us and many have taken the time to do so online. Reviews written about the attorneys at Wiener & Lambka, PS, are here:
While trying to find a lawyer that you can be confident with, look for someone with experience, professionalism, advocacy, and interpersonal communication skills. The relationship between a client and their attorney includes a fiduciary duty on part of the attorney. This means that the attorney must put the client’s interest above their own. You should definitely seek out other attorneys if you feel that your attorney does not have utmost interest in your case or the outcome that results. At the end of your case there will only be one settlement or award and you won’t ever get a chance to come back later for another bite at the apple. If you lawyer is neglecting your concerns and not answering your questions, you should consider seeking out different counsel because these behaviors will continue to occur throughout the duration of your case.
Settlements are usually a compromise between the two parties. With settlements, neither side receives everything they sought to gain from the case. The point of a settlement is to reduce the possibility of losses. At the start of a negotiation during a settlement, the insurance company for the guilty party will only offer small amounts of financial compensation. Insurance companies offer small amounts in the beginning to see if you are willing to accept a lesser dollar amount. Once the insurance companies understand you will not settle for less compensation money than you feel you deserve, they will try to offer you a lot of money upfront to avoid paying more later on. Insurance companies determine their suggested value of your compensation by looking at the specifics of your case. It can become very difficult to determine the appropriate compensation amount because cases are complicated and every incident is unique. Prior to agreeing to something in a settlement, you should have an idea of the minimum value which you are willing to settle for and accept as compensation. Potential forms of damages in a wrongful death case include:
*Loss of companionship to immediate family;
*Pre-death pain, suffering and terror;
* wage loss, both past and future;
*damage to property which includes not only vehicles but also clothing, glasses, any tangible item of value that had to be repaired or replaced;
Every case is unique and some will resolve more quickly than others. In wrongful death cases, the damages being sought are often of great monetary value. The loss of a life and its effects upon that person’s immediate family can be devastating. A more devastating and unexpected loss will cause greater tension and disagreements among parties when trying to settle. Because the negligent party has such high monetary exposure, they have a corresponding incentive to fight to try to reduce that exposure. When more is at stake, the chances of a lawsuit are much higher. Lawsuits take some time to unfold. In King County, it takes an average of one year and six months for a case to just reach a trial date. In other counties this time frame can be much longer.
The lawyers of Wiener & Lambka, PS, offer free consultations to people in search of legal assistance. Your consultation with us can either take place over the phone or through emails. Either way, we are pleased to help you start your process. Many cases do not, and we’re also happy to reassure potential clients in these circumstances. If we both agree that legal representation is something that will benefit you, then we will come to you to meet in person and talk in more detail so that you are fully informed about your case and what representation entails. You are more than welcome to meet us at our offices, but we offer to come to you as a way of lessening your stress following the loss of a loved one. We’ll usually just recommend that we meet somewhere local for you and convenient for everyone, like a neighborhood coffee shop, to go over the case in further details.
The following statute talks about the protocol for wrongful deaths that transpire in the state of Washington:
4.20.005 Wrongful death—Application of terms. Words in RCW 4.20.010, 4.20.020, and 4.20.030 denoting the singular shall be understood as belonging to a plurality of persons or things.
The masculine shall apply also to the feminine, and the word person shall also apply to bodies politic and corporate. [ 1917 c 123 § 3; RRS § 183-2. Formerly RCW 4.20.010, part.]
4.20.010 Wrongful death—Right of action. When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another his or her personal representative may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death; and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount, in law, to a felony. [ 2011 c 336 § 89; 1917 c 123 § 1; RRS § 183. FORMER PARTS OF SECTION: 1917 c 123 § 3 now codified as RCW 4.20.005. Prior: 1909 c 129 § 1; Code 1881 § 8; 1875 p 4 § 4;1854 p 220 § 496.]
4.20.020 Wrongful death—Beneficiaries of action. Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren, of the person whose death shall have been so caused. If there be no wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, or such child or children, such action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters, or brothers, who may be dependent upon the deceased person for support, and who are resident within the United States at the time of his or her death. In every such action the jury may give such damages as, under all circumstances of the case, may to them seem just. [ 2011 c 336 § 90; 2007 c 156 § 29; 1985 c 139 § 1; 1973 1st ex.s. c 154 § 2; 1917 c 123 § 2; RRS § 183-1.] NOTES: Severability—1973 1st ex.s. c 154: See note following RCW 2.12.030.
4.20.030 Workers’ compensation act not affected. RCW 4.20.005, 4.20.010, and 4.20.020 shall not repeal or supersede chapter 74 of the Laws of 1911 [Title 51 RCW] and acts amendatory thereof, or any part thereof. [ 1917 c 123 § 5; RRS § 183-3.]
4.20.046 Survival of actions. (1) All causes of action by a person or persons against another person or persons shall survive to the personal representatives of the former and against the personal representatives of the latter, whether such actions arise on contract or otherwise, and whether or not such actions would have survived at the common law or prior to the date of enactment of this section: PROVIDED, HOWEVER, That the personal representative shall only be entitled to recover damages for pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, or humiliation personal to and suffered by a deceased on behalf of those beneficiaries enumerated in RCW 4.20.020, and such damages are recoverable regardless of whether or not the death was occasioned by the injury that is the basis for the action. The liability of property of spouses or domestic partners held by them as community property to execution in satisfaction of a claim enforceable against such property so held shall not be affected by the death of either or both spouses or either or both domestic partners; and a cause of action shall remain an asset as though both claiming spouses or both claiming domestic partners continued to live despite the death of either or both claiming spouses or both claiming domestic partners. (2) Where death or an injury to person or property, resulting from a wrongful act, neglect or default, occurs simultaneously with or after the death of a person who would have been liable therefor if his or her death had not occurred simultaneously with such death or injury or had not intervened between the wrongful act, neglect or default and the resulting death or injury, an action to recover damages for such death or injury may be maintained against the personal representative of such person. [ 2008 c 6 § 409; 1993 c 44 § 1; 1961 c 137 § 1.] NOTES: Part headings not law—Severability—2008 c 6: See RCW 26.60.900 and 26.60.901.
4.20.050 Action not abated by death or disability if it survives—Substitution. No action shall abate by the death, marriage, or other disability of the party, or by the transfer of any interest therein, if the cause of action survives or continues; but the court may at any time within one year thereafter, on motion, allow the action to be continued by or against his or her representatives or successors in interest. [ 2011 c 336 § 91; Code 1881 § 17; 1877 p 6 § 17; 1869 p 6 § 17; 1854 p 132 § 11; RRS § 193.] NOTES: Rules of court: Cf. RAP 3.2, 18.22. 4.20.060 Action for personal injury survives to surviving spouse, state registered domestic partner, child, stepchildren, or heirs. No action for a personal injury to any person occasioning death shall abate, nor shall such right of action determine, by reason of such death, if such person has a surviving spouse, state registered domestic partner, or child living, including stepchildren, or leaving no surviving spouse, state registered domestic partner, or such children, if there is dependent upon the deceased for support and resident within the United States at the time of decedent’s death, parents, sisters, or brothers; but such action may be prosecuted, or commenced and prosecuted, by the executor or administrator of the deceased, in favor of such surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, or in favor of the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner and such children, or if no surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, in favor of such child or children, or if no surviving spouse, state registered domestic partner, or such child or children, then in favor of the decedent’s parents, sisters, or brothers who may be dependent upon such person for support, and resident in the United States at the time of decedent’s death. [ 2007 c 156 § 30; 1985 c 139 § 2; 1973 1st ex.s. c 154 § 3; 1927 c 156 § 1; 1909 c 144 § 1; Code 1881 § 18; 1854 p 220 § 495; RRS § 194.] NOTES: Severability—1973 1st ex.s. c 154: See note following RCW 2.12.030.
The Washington wrongful death law allows for the creation of a cause of action that can be brought only through the estate of the deceased. You should immediately turn to Probate Court and create an Estate on behalf of your deceased loved one. This includes the selection and appointment of a person to be the Personal Representative of the Estate. This person then takes action on behalf of the Estate, including the bringing of any wrongful death claims. This statute only permits spouses and children to file a wrongful death claim for their deceased partner or parent. Lawsuits filed by family members are eligible for including loss of companionship in their case. Washington law allows also for a legal claim to be made by the parents when a child under the age of 18 is wrongfully killed. Parents lose a handful of rights to claim compensation for the wrongful death of their child when said child turns 18 years old. The only claim that can be brought at that point is a claim for loss of economic support and must be based upon a showing that the child was economically supporting the parent prior to his or her death. If someone had a valid claim prior to their death, the claim holds true even after they pass and it can be beneficial to the Estate when the wrongful death claim goes to court. This would include pre-death pain and suffering as well as terror if the facts of the case support such a claim. If a person passes away wrongfully, but they do not have children or a spouse, then a wrongful death claim cannot be filed in their name under Washington State law. Under these circumstances, there are no beneficiaries listed in the statute to bring the claim. The parents have no right to bring a cause of action for the death of an adult child and, if the adult child is not married nor are there children by the adult child, then there is not a cause of action for their death. People who are young adults and in their pre-marriage stages in life are not covered by Washington law if they were to pass away in a wrongful death incident. Anyone whose disabilities prevent them from getting married and having children are also unprotected by the laws in Washington State. Additionally, parents who reside outside of the United States cannot bring a claim for the wrongful death of the child. Lawmakers have tried fixing this gap in legislature but so far it has been to no avail.
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