If your family member died from injuries caused by a negligent party, you may have the right to file a legal claim for a wrongful death. The details of the situation are important because not every incident that is caused by negligence results in a legal claim.
Ask yourself these three questions when looking to file a legal claim for wrongful death.
First, did the person who caused the injury breach a legal duty to the person who died?
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 result in compensation usually only when the guilty party was supposed to uphold a legal duty of some sort but they failed to do so. 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.
This stems from a 2005 case where a woman had obtained a protective order against her former 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.
Next, you must explore whether or not the person who is responsible for the damage acted in an unreasonable way to cause damage, meaning they breached 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. There are statutes governing how we are required to act when driving, including stopping at red lights. If an accident is caused by someone intentionally disregarding traffic laws, then that person has acted in a negligent manner.
Negligence can be harder to define in some situations. 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.” 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.
Number three on your list of questions is to figure out whether the negligent behavior was the direct cause of the deceased person’s death.
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. The doctor’s assertion that the patient can fly home is in violation of the standard of care because further harm can be caused by flying too soon after an injury.
Upon landing the patient is being driven to a hospital for care when his vehicle is struck by another driver. As a result of the crash, the man’s spine is only slightly impacted, but the additional trauma, no matter how small, ends up breaking his neck completely and causing his death. The question of whose negligence caused the death is now a key question in this case.
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 this point forward, each case is unique and requires independent analysis from a competent attorney. Fortunately, the majority of attorneys in this field offer free consultations on such matters. 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.
If the deceased person had no spouse, state registered domestic partner, children, or stepchildren, the deceased person’s parents, sisters, or brothers may file a wrongful death claim. Special rules exist for cases that involve the wrongful death of children under 18 years old. Parents who are still married can file the case jointly. If a child is killed and the parents of said child are not married under law, then the parent who provided most of the care to the now-deceased child is the only guardian legally allowed to file a claim for wrongful death of their child. 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 something can cause injury, it is also capable of causing 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. Interestingly enough, not every personal injury attorney knows how to handle wrongful death cases. No matter what happened in the actual incident, your case is unique to you and your family. For example, you might have a straight-forward automobile accident where someone struck your loved one from behind. The general overview of a car accident from behind sounds very simple but there are always specific details that set it apart from other crashes from behind. The sooner you call upon legal assistance, the more prepared you can be for taking your case to court. Even if the attorney does not introduce new information to you, their presence and assistance can reassure you, at the very least, that you are acting in your best interests. 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:
Most wrongful death cases in Washington generally have a three-year statute of limitations. A statute of limitations dictates the parameters of a valid claim and it lets you know how long you have to properly file your claim before it is no longer eligible for compensation. Failure to do so will result in the loss of your legal rights to 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. Some incidents that result in death are actually considered assault cases, which have a statute of limitations of two years, not three. If you think you have a case, reach out to an attorney as soon as possible. Since statutes of limitations can sever your rights for compensation, you must file your suit and complete the process prior to the deadline of your statute. Lawsuits can take longer than you anticipate. Finding the right party to sue can sometimes be 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. Without basic information, however, it’s hard for lawyers to form a case and file a claim on your behalf. 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. 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. The statute of limitations is not a deadline but rather a cautionary timeframe letting you know how much time you have before your rights for compensation expire. 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. Either way, you will depend to some degree on your attorney for advice. 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 leave the big decision-making up to our clients. How much to accept, whether or not to sue, and whether or not to settle or go to trial are all questions resolved by the client. 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. The details of every case need to be carefully analyzed and reviewed to make sure that everything is taken into account. The more you care about the outcome of your case, the more important it is that you find legal advice to assist your case. There are many resources out there to help you find an attorney that is the most suitable for your case. Not all of the ratings you will find are going to be accurate and honest but they can give you a general overview of the attorneys. 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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When hiring an attorney, look for experience, interpersonal communications skills, a commitment to professionalism and advocacy for their clients. 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. 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.
Settlements are usually a compromise between the two parties. With settlements, neither side receives everything they sought to gain from the case. Settlements aim to please both sides while minimizing the losses and risks involved. 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 past this stage, insurance companies will often make offers that are designed to have a value to them that parts with money now in an effort to eliminate the possibility of paying more later. They determine the value of compensation by looking at the case in full. 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. The types of damage that can occur as a result of wrongful death cases include the following:
Some cases might take less time to resolve and conclude than others, the reason being that every case is so different. 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. It is more likely that the guilty party and his/her insurance provider will face more disagreements with the victim’s family if the death was extremely sudden and out of nowhere. Because the negligent party has such high monetary exposure, they have a corresponding incentive to fight to try to reduce that exposure. The more there is to fight over, the more likely that a lawsuit will be involved. Lawsuits are very slow processes. 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.
For those looking to find someone to represent them in a wrongful death case, Wiener & Lambka, PS, offers a free consultation to discuss details. We can talk to you by phone or through email. 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. Not all cases require that an attorney get involved and we are honest about that from the beginning. 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. If you want to come to our offices, you are more than welcome to – but we know that wrongful death cases really take a toll on families and we just want to ease your distress as much as we possibly can. We usually seek to meet at a mutually convenient place nearby your home or place of employment – whatever works for our clients also works for us.
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.
In Washington State, a cause of action can only be brought to court through the deceased person’s estate. Before anything else happens, the Estate must be created in Probate Court. When you visit Probate Court, you’ll be given the opportunity to officially name someone the 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. When a child turns 18, they are legally responsible for their rights and the parents lose a large percentage of their rights when it comes to filing. 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. 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. Claims of this nature include any pain inflicted by the cause of death, as well as any trauma imposed by the outcome of the accident. 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. Since parents cannot bring a claim forward if their child is legally an adult, someone without children or a spouse cannot have a wrongful death claim brought forward in their name. 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. If the parents of children do not live in the United States, they cannot legally file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their child either. Many attempts have been made to fix this gap in the law without success.
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