Legal rights can be claimed for a wrongful death if your family member died as a result of negligent actions. The details of the situation are important because not every incident that is caused by negligence results in a legal claim.
In order to file a legal claim regarding wrongful death, ask yourself three questions.
First, did the person who caused the injury breach a legal duty to the person who died?
This means that the person had to have acted in a negligent manner, but in the context of having a legal duty. Negligent actions are common but they do not always constitute compensation. An example that may surprise you is that you cannot sue the police for not protecting you, according to a United States Supreme Court ruling.
In 2005, a woman filed for a protective order against her ex-husband. The ex-husband kidnapped their three children and she reported it to the police. Despite making several requests for the police to find her husband and the children, they took no steps to do so. After the ex-husband killed all three children, the mother sued the police department for their failure to take action and the Court deemed her to have no right to do so because a police department doesn’t have a duty under the law to protect citizens upon request and must be given discretion in their decision making along these lines.
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. Statutes govern how we are to act so that accidents do not occur. If an accident is caused by someone intentionally disregarding traffic laws, then that person has acted in a negligent manner.
Negligence is a more difficult question in other contexts. In the healthcare industry, for example, you would need to look at the actions of, say, a doctor who supposedly acted with negligence and see how his actions compare to a doctor in the same line of work and circumstances. The term for this is “standard of care.” This is a much more subjective standard and subject to much more debate than someone who fails to drive their car consistent with traffic laws.
Last but not least, determine if the person who died was killed as a direct result of negligent behavior.
As an example, consider someone who fell while riding a horse and breaks their neck from the fall on vacation. 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.
After the patient lands, he is being transported to the hospital for further medical care when another driver crashes into him. The patent’s spine shifts subtly but results in this person dying from their exacerbated broken neck. The question of whose negligence caused the death is now a key question in this case.
As you can probably tell from what we have said so far, cases involving wrongful deaths can be very complex situations. The key question is whether the death was caused by another person’s negligence. While this can be complicated, this is the basic question that all such cases start with. In order to answer the question concerning negligence, it is advised that you seek insight and analysis from a personal injury attorney. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations to discuss the details of your case. At Wiener & Lambka, PS, we also offer a free consultation and spend a lot of time reviewing matters for potential clients without charge, even though we end up taking on representation in only a small percentage of the cases we review. If we ultimately determine that we are not the best law firm for your situation, we will refer you to someone who can help you.
Washington law allows the following parties to file a wrongful death claim:
· 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.
If someone is killed in a wrongful death incident and they have neither a spouse nor children, their direct family members have the right to file a claim on their behalf. There are certain rules that exist for the wrongful deaths of children 18 years old and younger. Parents who are still married can file the case jointly. 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. The parent who files a wrongful death claim must notify the other parent within twenty days of the file date, as well as provide them with a copy of the legal document. This serves to notify the other parent that the case is going forward and that he or she may join it if desired.
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. There is no reason why you would be expected to suddenly understand all that needs to be learned about insurance, the legal system, and the medicine that is involved. 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 earlier you contact an attorney, the earlier you can learn how to properly handle your case. 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. The details regarding how to proceed with your case depend on the type of law it deals with, but we have compiled basic advice for you based on the nature of your wrongful death claim:
In the case of a wrongful death, Washington State has a statute of limitations of three years. This means that you must file your lawsuit claiming compensation for a wrongful death within three years of the date of the incident. If you do not abide by the statute of limitations for any case, you lose your rights to claim compensation. You should look into the nature of your case immediately because sometimes, a situation seems like a wrongful death case, but it actually falls under another category. 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. Lawsuits can take longer than you anticipate. Even the most basic of tasks, like determining who it is that you need to sue, can become complex. In our many years of practice, we’ve even run into clients who come to us with a case but have no information about the person who caused them harm. Without basic facts, it is impossible to preserve your legal rights. Insurance companies will do everything in their power to throw out your case if you do not properly file and serve the lawsuit. Even though the statute of limitations is three years, you are strongly encouraged to begin the process of filing a claim much sooner. This is especially true in matters of great importance like wrongful death claims. 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. Contacting an attorney immediately when you have a personal injury matter is the most important thing you can do.
It is important that you find an attorney that you trust. Your case will either end in a settlement or a trial in court. Whether you settle or go to court, your attorney will be someone you rely on heavily. We let our clients know that it is the job of the attorney to provide them with important information regarding their case so their lawyer is the person they should listen to when it comes to risk analyses and advice. We do not make the big decisions on behalf of our clients. Questions like whether or not to sue the other party, how much to accept as compensation, and whether or not they take the other party to trial are for the client to answer. Personal injury attorneys tend to offer free consultations to discuss the details of your case and they will either accept your case or point you in the right direction. Each case is unique and presents issues that must be individually analyzed and then re-analyzed as each part relates to the whole of the case. 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. There are many resources out there to help you find an attorney that is the most suitable for your case. Not all ratings are equal but taking a look at all the resources out there can help you make a well-informed decision. Here at Wiener & Lambka, PS, we are happy to say that the majority of our former clients refer us to their family and friends. At Wiener & Lambka, PS, we are grateful that almost all of our former clients talk positively about our work and write supportive reviews of us online. Our reviews can be found here:
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The best lawyers have experience, are committed to professionalism, prioritize advocacy for their clients, and have mastered interpersonal communication skills. The relationship between a client and their attorney includes a fiduciary duty on part of the attorney. A fiduciary duty requires a lawyer to put his/her client’s interest at the forefront and prioritize their client’s wishes over their own opinions. If you have an attorney who doesn’t promptly respond to your communications or acts with indifference to your case, you should probably find someone with whom you can work better. 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.
In general, a settlement is often a compromise between parties where each side receives some sort of benefit. This means that seldom does either side get exactly what they want when settling their case. The point of a settlement is to reduce the possibility of losses. The insurance company will typically only offer smaller amounts of money early on in negotiations. Insurance companies start small and work their way up in order to see if you’ll accept a smaller amount. Once they realize you are not going to settle for less than you deserve, they will try to offer you a lot upfront rather than risk owing you lump sums of money later. This is a subjective determination on some level regarding the evaluation of a case’s value. 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. Some examples of damage that can stem from a wrongful death case are…
Every case is unique and some will resolve more quickly than others. Since the damage caused in wrongful death incidents usually involves items of high monetary value, compensation is usually a high dollar amount as well. Sudden death inflicts a lot of pain upon the family members who lost their loved one. The more devastating the loss, the more likely there will be disagreement with the party responsible for paying compensation for that loss. The negligent party has an incentive to reduce their already-high monetary exposure. The more there is to fight over, the more likely that a lawsuit will be involved. 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. Not all counties are this quick either.
At Wiener & Lambka, PS, we are happy to provide a free consultation to potential clients. This can be done via email or telephone. No matter how we communicate, we are more than happy to discuss details and let you know if we think you would benefit from the assistance of a personal injury lawyer. Many cases do not, and we’re also happy to reassure potential clients in these circumstances. Once we determine your case is one that we can help you with, we will travel to your general area and meet with you to further discuss the benefits of legal representation. 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.
Below is an in-depth analysis of wrongful deaths that occur in Washington State:
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.
In Washington State, a cause of action can only be brought to court through the deceased person’s estate. Accordingly, the first thing that needs to be done is create the Estate in the Probate Court. In Probate Court, you will choose someone to hold the title of Personal Representative of the Estate. From there, the person elected as Representative will go ahead and file a claim of wrongful death on behalf of the Estate. This statute only permits spouses and children to file a wrongful death claim for their deceased partner or parent. Suits filed by spouses and/or children can state ‘loss of companionship’ as a reason for filing. The state of Washington permits parents of children killed when younger than 18 years old to file a wrongful death claim. Once a child reaches the age of maturity, however, the claims that a parent can bring are severely curtailed. Once a child is 18, a parent can only file a wrongful death claim under the guise of ‘economic support’ and even then, a lot of evidence is needed to prove this claim. Any claim that the deceased had prior to their death survives their death and can be prosecuted accordingly under the wrongful death statute for the benefit of the Estate. Pre-death pain, suffering, trauma, and terror are all included as valid claims. 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. Unfortunately, there aren’t any beneficiaries who can 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. For this reason, most people are not covered under Washington State law for wrongful death. Developmentally-delayed people who are of adult age are also unprotected under Washington State law. Non-US residents cannot file wrongful death claims for their children either. Attempts have been made to change these laws but nothing has been successful yet.
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