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Have you lost a loved one as a result of another's negligence?

The loss of a loved one is always devastating, but when you lose a loved one unexpectedly, and because of another’s negligence, it can also be confusing, frightening, and financially disastrous. An unexpected death can leave the survivors scrambling to try and get the decedent’s affairs in order, and when a death is unexpected, often little or nothing has been done to prepare for the care of the surviving family members. 

While monetary compensation can never replace a loved one, this is the remedy the law provides for when your loved one’s death results from another’s negligence.   

Wrongful Death Claims Vs. Survival Actions

A wrongful death claim is brought on behalf of the surviving family members of the decedent and is intended to compensate them for the grief and financial losses they suffered as a result of the decedent's death. A survival action, on the other hand, is a claim for injuries and damages that the decedent suffered prior to death and would have been able to recover on their own behalf had they lived. Colloquially, the two types of claims/actions are often lumped together and simply referred to as a wrongful death claim. 

Washington adopted the survival statutes in order to correct an unjust irregularity of the old common law which would prevent any recovery for injuries and/or damages the decedent suffered if they did not survive. 

Who can bring a wrongful death claim?

Under Washington law, when a person dies as the result of another’s negligence, the personal representative of the decedent’s estate may be entitled to bring a wrongful death claim. See RCW 4.20.010

What is a Personal Representative? A personal representative is either the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate. The main difference between the two is how they were appointed. An executor is named in the will of a decedent. An administrator is appointed by a court when the decedent dies without a will (known as dying “intestate”). 

Whether the personal representative is appointed by will or by a court, their duties remain the same. The personal representative is responsible for managing the legal and financial affairs of the decedent, and ultimately distributing the decedent’s assets to the appropriate beneficiaries.  

Who are the Beneficiaries? Beneficiaries are the surviving family members legally entitled to the proceeds of the decedent’s wrongful death claim. The beneficiaries are determined by law, See RCW 4.20.020, and are: 

  • 1. Spouse
  • 2. Registered Domestic Partner
  • 3. Children (including stepchildren)

If there is no surviving spouse, registered domestic partner, or children (or stepchildren), then the parents or siblings may be beneficiaries.  

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2021 Deadliest on Washington Roads in 15 Years

2021 saw a 34.2% increase in deaths since the 15-year low in 2013 with only 408 fatal crashes.

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540 Fatal Crashes Killing 600 People in 2021

Total fatal crashes on Washington roads were lower in both 2020 and 2021 than they had been in the previous 15 years, a sign that the proportion of crashes leading to catastrophic outcomes has drastically increased.

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118 Bicycle and Pedestrian Deaths in 2021

Of the 600 deaths on Washington roads in 2021, 118 of those involved either a bicyclist or a pedestrian. 

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What is The Statute of Limitations?

Like other personal injury claims, there is a time limit to bring legal action for a wrongful death case in Washington State. In most cases, the statute of limitations will be three years from the date of the incident leading to the death. However, in some cases, the statute of limitations may be longer or shorter depending on the specific facts of the case.

If the personal representative of the decedent's estate fails to either settle the case or file a lawsuit against the correct defendant before the statute of limitations lapses, they will be barred from receiving compensation.  This is why it is important to consult with an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to ensure you do not miss any important deadlines that will affect your case or prevent you from recovering. 

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What Damages Are Available?

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Economic Damages

Economic damages compensate the injured victim for actual monetary loss. Examples include:

  • Medical Expenses (including cost of medical treatment and/or equipment)
  • Prescriptions
  • Lost Wages/Lost Opportunity
  • Domestic Service Expenses
  • Funeral & Burial Expenses
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Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are subjective, non-monetary losses. Examples include:

  • Pain & Suffering
  • Inconvenience
  • Emotional Distress
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life
  • Loss of Society & Companionship
  • Loss of Consortium
  • Pre-Death Terror & Fright
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Other Damages

Other types of damages injured victims may be entitled to include:

  • Vehicle Damage Repairs/Total Loss Value
  • Diminished Value
  • Loss of Use of Property
  • Towing
  • Rental Car
  • Other Damaged Property