Almost nothing has more emotional impact than losing a loved one. Knowing your loved one died due to someone else’s careless actions can make this loss feel even more monumental. Although you may not be thinking about a legal battle in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death, you should know that bereaved family members may deserve financial compensation.

Unfortunately, Washington has complicated laws surrounding wrongful death lawsuits. Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit after the passing of a family member? The answer is not always straightforward, making getting through this difficult time even more challenging for family members.

If you have lost a loved one due to the careless actions of another, you may have options for recovering compensation for your family. Money can’t bring back your precious family member, but it can help financially stabilize you and your family during this tumultuous time. Sharing your story with an experienced wrongful death attorney is one way to learn more about Washington’s complicated legal framework for wrongful death cases and how to protect yourself and your family.

Why You Should Hire an Attorney

File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Washington’s complicated wrongful death statutes are not easy to understand. Navigating the legal system while you are under tremendous stress and coping with grief is even more challenging. An attorney is an advocate who can protect you and your family and manage the complicated details of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Washington.

Hiring an attorney gives you the best chance possible at protecting your family from the financial instability that can wreck a household after the death of a family member. In the grip of grief, focusing on other financial matters can be hard. Having an attorney on your side means you have someone to help you manage financial and legal issues. You are free from the stress and burden of handling a complicated situation and can focus on helping your family heal.

A seasoned wrongful death attorney can help by:

  • Outlining your legal options for recovering compensation
  • Thoroughly investigating the cause of your loved one’s accident
  • Identifying potentially liable parties
  • Collecting valuable evidence before someone loses or destroys it
  • Negotiating on your behalf for fair compensation
  • Managing strict legal deadlines
  • Preparing a case for court when necessary

Money can’t make you and your family whole again. However, it can help protect you and your family members from the financial fallout of losing a loved one.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Like other states, Washington has wrongful death statutes that allow family members to use the legal system to seek justice when a loved one passes away due to the careless actions of another. In Washington, wrongful death occurs when another party’s wrongful actions, neglect, or default causes someone’s death.

Sometimes it helps to think of wrongful death lawsuits as similar to personal injury lawsuits.

When someone’s careless actions cause an injury, the injured individual can pursue compensation for their financial losses in a personal injury lawsuit. For example, an individual injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver can attempt to recover compensation from the at-fault individual or their insurer. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the actions of the careless individual don’t just cause injury. They cause the person’s death. Instead of the injured individual pursuing legal action, family members seek compensation.

What Leads to a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful death cases can encompass a variety of unique circumstances. When an individual’s careless actions lead to another person’s death, a court may hold them responsible for their actions.

Common examples of accidents that may trigger a wrongful death lawsuit include:

If you are unsure whether you can file a wrongful death lawsuit for a loved one after a tragic accident, discuss your situation with an experienced Washington wrongful death attorney.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Washington?

Washington law strictly outlines who can file a wrongful death lawsuit after someone dies. Unlike other states where family members may pursue legal action, Washington limits the filing of wrongful death lawsuits to the deceased individual’s personal representative. A personal representative is also sometimes known as an executor. This individual manages the deceased person’s estate and is typically appointed by the deceased and named in the person’s will.

In cases where an individual passes away without a will, or the personal representative cannot fulfill their duties, the court can appoint a personal representative to act in the interest of the deceased.

Washington outlines exceptional circumstances where someone other than the specified personal representative may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of a loved one. If an individual was a minor at the time of death, a parent or legal guardian could file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the deceased is over 18, but a parent had significant involvement in managing their adult child’s life, they may file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of their child.

Who Are the Beneficiaries of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

While only the deceased’s personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit, Washington law stipulates that certain family members are the beneficiaries entitled to compensation if a lawsuit is successful in court. The first in line to receive compensation from a successful wrongful death lawsuit is the deceased individual’s surviving spouse or children. Washington recognizes state-registered domestic partners as beneficiaries in this category.

Benefits can go to parents or siblings if the deceased has no surviving spouse, partner, or children. No family members other than the ones outlined can receive wrongful death compensation in Washington.

Compensation for Wrongful Death

Although it is impossible to put a price on the death of a loved one, an experienced Washington attorney can help the deceased’s personal representative recover maximum compensation for your financial losses.

Economic compensation covers the financial losses associated with the passing of a loved one, like funeral costs, burial costs, medical expenses, and lost income. Non-economic compensation covers the subjective losses related to wrongful death, including quality of life changes.

In total, a wrongful death lawsuit may pursue compensation on behalf of the family members for the following:

  • Funeral costs
  • Burial expenses
  • Medical expenses before death
  • Lost income
  • Loss of future earnings
  • Loss of benefits
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of companionship
  • Pain and suffering

Discussing your case’s unique circumstances with a seasoned Washington wrongful death lawyer is vital. Numerous factors can affect the overall value of a wrongful death lawsuit. An attorney can evaluate a situation and give family members a better understanding of the legal process and what to expect in terms of compensation.

Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Grief has no time limit. Wrongful death lawsuits do. Washington gives a deceased individual’s personal representative a limited time to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Filing a wrongful death case must occur within three years of a person’s death.

Failing to file a wrongful death lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires limits your options for recovering compensation. Cases filed after the deadline face dismissal by the court.

Talking to an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible is essential. An attorney can manage legal deadlines and inform you of potential special circumstances that may apply to your case. For example, medical malpractice cases that result in death have a separate statute of limitations that may apply.

Proving Wrongful Death

Proving that a careless individual was responsible for a loved one’s death takes evidence. Gathering the evidence needed to mount a successful lawsuit can be overwhelming for family members still dealing with loss and grief. An attorney is a valuable ally. An attorney is someone with the time and resources to complete an in-depth investigation into the cause of the accident and gather robust evidence before it disappears.

Examples of the types of evidence that may help an attorney build a compelling wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Medical records
  • Surveillance video
  • Photographs
  • Cellular phone records
  • Witness statements
  • Expert accident reconstruction testimony

The totality of the evidence must establish that the responsible individual owed your loved one a duty of care and violated that duty with their careless actions. The evidence must also show that these careless actions resulted in your family member’s death, hurting you and your family.

It is not always easy to build a wrongful death case. It takes dedication and attention to detail. Knowledgeable Washington wrongful death attorneys understand local laws and know how to navigate within the legal framework to build a strong case.

Civil Versus Criminal Cases

There is often confusion between civil and criminal lawsuits, especially following a person’s untimely death. Wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions brought by the personal representative of a beloved family member.

Civil lawsuits are typically considered legal disputes between two individual parties. Instead of penalizing a careless individual as criminal cases do, a civil lawsuit is an attempt to make a wronged person whole again by obtaining appropriate financial compensation for their losses.

The burden of proof in a civil case is much lower than in a criminal case. During a civil case, the plaintiff must only establish that the preponderance of the evidence shows the careless individual is, more likely than not, responsible for the circumstances of an individual’s death.

In the end, civil cases are not about guilt or innocence. Civil cases help compensate victims for their financial losses, both economic and non-economic. In rare situations, the court awards some individuals punitive damages in civil cases. Punitive damages do not cover financial losses. They are a means of punishing the defendant for gross negligence or misconduct.

Individuals do not file criminal lawsuits. The state or a government body files them against a person accused of violating the law. A prosecutor must establish that the individual is guilty of committing a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

This burden of proof is higher than the preponderance of the evidence required in a civil case. If the court finds the defendant guilty, a criminal case results in punishment under the law. Punishment may involve jail time, fines, and community service, depending on the severity of the crime.

Can a person be liable in both criminal and civil courts? The answer is yes, depending on the circumstances. If a drunk driver causes an accident that kills another individual, a criminal court may hold them accountable for violating Washington’s drunk driving laws. However, a civil court may also hold them financially responsible for their actions in civil court.

What to Do After the Death of a Loved One

attorneys rick and angel
Rick Park & Angel Chenaur, Wrongful Death Lawyers

Nothing is more complicated than coping with the sudden loss of a loved one. You may be emotionally devastated and not know where to turn for the help and answers you need to move forward. Often, people are hesitant to involve a lawyer in personal family matters. However, a skilled Washington wrongful death attorney can offer you and your family more than legal advice.

An experienced wrongful death lawyer can be an integral part of your support system during this trying time. They can be a compassionate shoulder to lean on while they help you through the challenges of Washington’s legal network. You do not have to carry the burden of a loved one’s death alone.

Additionally, contacting an attorney as soon as possible can help protect you and your family. Immediately after a devastating accident, the negligent party may take steps to shield themselves from liability, destroying evidence or changing the narrative.

You need a lawyer to fight back if you want the compensation you and your family deserve. An attorney can be a powerful ally, helping you gather the vital information to hold a careless individual responsible for their actions. A wrongful death case isn’t only about compensation. It is about offering you and your family a measure of justice.

After the death of a loved one, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about your rights. You and your loved one deserve justice.

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