Spokane Wrongful Death Attorney
Losing a loved one is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. When a person’s death has been caused by another person’s reckless or negligent behavior, survivors’ grief can be compounded by anger, a strong desire to see justice served, and the person responsible held accountable for their actions.
What is wrongful death?
A wrongful death suit is filed by a close family member of a person who has been killed by the negligent behavior of another person, corporation, or entity. These suits are usually filed by the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased. They are brought to court by a personal representative or someone the family has chosen to represent them.
Many times wrongful deaths happen as a result of a severe car accident or construction injury. In some, situations a wrongful death can be harder to establish. For example, if an inebriated minor causes a fatal car accident, a suit may be filed against the person who sold alcohol to that minor.
How the Value of a Wrongful Death Claim is Determined
It is hard to lose a beloved parent or grandparent—especially in a negligent wrongful death tragedy. The wrongful death of an elderly person can cause emotional and financial hardship. The spouse and or children will lose companionship and possibly monetary contributions.
The survivors of the family may have been dependent on the pension of the deceased. If survivorship benefits were not in place, a significant amount of money could have been lost due to the death of the loved one.
Many factors have to be considered when valuing a wrongful death claim. The decedent’s life will be evaluated regarding their:
- Contributions of income in the past
- Life expectancy at the time of wrongful death
- Health, age, habits, talents, and success
- Past earnings
- Future earning capacity and prospects of advancement
In addition to considering the lost contributions of the decedent, other areas that will be examined are:
- Personal living expenses of spouse and children
- Legal obligation to support spouse and next of kin, including likelihood the decedent would have fulfilled that obligation
- All medical expenses incurred as a result of the injuries causing death
- All reasonable expenses incurred for funeral and burial
- The probability that the decedent would pay off debts of spouse or next of kin
- The council, guidance, and aid the decedent would have given
- The advice, comfort, assistance, and protection the decedent would have given
Additional factors taken into consideration in determining damages are:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of guidance
- Loss of affection
- The age of the decedent
- Whether the decedent experienced pain and suffering
Wrongful Death of a Child
It’s difficult for the court to quantify the economic loss for the death of a child. There are no wages to consider, and a minor child does not usually contribute to the family’s finances. A child does contribute in other ways. In the state of Washington, parents can recover for the loss of the child’s companionship and affection. There is a specific Washington statute RCW 4.24.010 that provides rules for wrongful death claims of a child under 18.
Parents who can recover for the death of a child include:
- Child’s mother or father
- Child’s acknowledged, father or mother
- Child’s adoptive parents
- Legal guardians
An adult child is a different circumstance. When an adult child suffers a wrongful death, the parents have a beneficiary claim if the adult child had been contributing money to the parents’ household or providing valuable services to the parents. In addition, the parents can file a pecuniary loss claim. Pecuniary loss includes loss of advice, care, comfort, and companionship. Whether the adult child was married also affects the parents’ rights to a degree.
Wrongful Death of an Unborn Child
Wrongful death of an unborn child is not recognized by ten states, including California and New York, but it is recognized in the State of Washington in some circumstances.
To bring an action for the wrongful death of an unborn child in the State of Washington, the plaintiff’s counsel will have to:
- Prove the traditional elements of a wrongful death
- A human death occurred
- That death was caused by the wrongful act, negligence, omission of a person or corporation or medical professional.
- That financial loss was suffered by beneficiaries.
- Must show that the fetus was viable, meaning that it was healthy and would have been born healthy and able to live outside the womb if death had not occurred.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Under Washington State law located at RCW 4.20.020 the claim can only be bought by the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren. If there is no wife or husband or domestic partner or children, then an action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters or brothers who may be dependent on the deceased person for support and that resided in the United States at the time of death.
Can stepchildren Recover For The Death of a Step-Parent?
Yes, under RCW 4.20.020 stepchildren can be a beneficiary of a wrongful death action.
Can a Domestic Partner Recover For the Death of His or Her Partner?
Yes, but according to RCW 4.20.020, the person must be a state registered domestic partner to be a beneficiary of a wrongful death action.
Types of Damages Available In Wrongful Death Cases
Damages in these suits are limited to financial losses suffered by the surviving family members. They cannot receive compensation for grief, sorrow, or pain. They can, however, receive compensation for:
- Medical bills related to the injury or death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost income or wages that would have been earned over the lifetime of the deceased
- An award of damages for the pain and suffering the deceased person experienced
- Value of damages to personal property
- Damages equated to loss of care, love, affection or companionship, and possibly other intangible losses by the deceased person’s immediate family members.
Even though these damages are more limited than a normal personal injury case where a person survives, the damages once added together can be substantial, especially in cases where the person was younger and had high wage earning potential.
Do You Have Grounds for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Three criteria have to be met to establish a wrongful death.
- A human death occurred
- That death was caused by the wrongful act, negligence, omission of a person or corporation
- Financial loss was suffered by beneficiaries.
To prove fault in a wrongful death case, witness supported evidence is necessary. The evidence presented by the plaintiff must be sufficient and compelling to convince the judge or jury to rule favorably. Witnesses must be willing to testify. Witnesses will need to relate precisely what they saw or heard pertaining to the death. Physical evidence will be gathered, including:
- Medical reports
- Corroborative witness testimonies
- Police reports
Expert witness evidence can be invaluable to further explain issues that may not be obvious or discernible to the judge or jury. Expert witnesses are often used in product liability, vehicle safety, and workplace safety cases.
Potential damages evidence has to be presented to prove to the judge or jury that a recovery is just and fitting. Some documentation that is beneficial:
- Bank records
- Business sales journals
- Business profit and loss reports
- Employer records
The Law Firm of Robert C. Hahn, III handles all forms of wrongful death claims, including but not limited to:
What if Someone Dies Months or Years After the Initial Injuries?
Remember you must be able to prove that the plaintiff died as a result of the accident or injury in a wrongful death case. If this happens within a close timeframe to the accident, it is easier to show. A lawsuit to pursue a wrongful death claim must be filed within three years of the date of the death. The general rule is to consult with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as you think you may have a claim.
Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Action
The statute of limitations in a wrongful death action is three years from the date of the death. You must file suit or settle the case within this timeframe, or the claim is barred from recovery. Given the fact that many times these claims are complicated and evidence must be gathered and evaluated before a lawsuit can be filed you should act as quickly as possible to retain counsel to review the case.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Case
For a family member like a spouse, child or parent to have grounds for a lawsuit, they must be able to prove the tortfeasor or person they are suing was wholly or partially responsible for causing the injuries that lead to the death of their loved one. To make a wrongful death claim, the family member will need to prove that:
- The person or corporation or entity that they are suing was reckless, careless or negligent.
- That the above reckless, careless or negligent act caused the injuries that lead to the death of their loved one.
- That the person had a duty to act reasonably and not be reckless, careless or negligent
- That the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the injuries or damages that resulted in the death of their loved one.
Steps You Should Take After a Wrongful Death
Steps in a wrongful death claim are different than a normal injury claim because a death has occurred and the person maintaining the action is not the injured person but usually a family member. These cases are generally more complicated so care should go into gathering evidence and documenting the facts.
1. Obtain the Death Certificate
A family member or personal representative should be able to get the certificate from the local Department of Health. The certificate usually lists the cause of death.
2. Identify all survivors
Locate and determine all family members who may be involved in the wrongful death action. These are normally the decedent’s spouse, children and parents. It can also mean stepchildren, blood relatives or adopted relatives who depended on the deceased.
3. Document Your Experience and Gather Evidence
Document the claim to the best of your ability and with wrongful death cases that can be very hard emotionally to handle but the more evidence you have documenting the pain and suffering the deceased individual endured, the higher the potential damages.
So, take photos, videos, witness statements, keep a journal of the facts surrounding the injury and medical treatment. The evidence regarding income loss, burial and funeral expenses, property damage and medical bills are documented in records that can be gathered at any time at a later date.
4. Start Probate Process
Begin the process of probating the deceased’s estate, so that a personal representative can be appointed. This usually involves hiring a probate attorney so that it’s done efficiently and correctly. We have several well-qualified lawyers we can refer to begin the probate process.
5. Track Expenses
Track expenses related to the injury of the deceased party, this includes medical bills, costs of prescriptions, lost wages, and transportation costs. If insurance companies are involved, keep relevant claim numbers and policies numbers in a safe place.
6. Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney
Contact a wrongful death lawyer—We recommend that you contact one as soon as possible. An attorney will be able to protect your families legal interests and guide you in taking the right steps
Insurance Companies Are Not on Your Side
Most insurance adjusters will contact an accident victim within 24 hours of the accident. They know victims are most vulnerable in the immediate aftermath of an accident and more likely to provide a statement that may jeopardize the outcome of their claim. It’s best to provide the insurance adjusters with only your basic contact information.
Do NOT give any statements to an insurance company or investigator retained by another party or insurance carrier. Insurance companies are not on your side and will look for any opportunity to devalue or deny your claim. Before speaking to a representative from an insurance company, you should consult with a wrongful death attorney.
To learn more about insurance companies read our 8 Things You Should Know About Insurance Companies post.
Get An Informed Legal Perspective On Your Case
Spokane’s Personal Injury Attorney Robert Hahn is dedicated to protecting families that have lost a loved one by the careless act or negligence of another.
We have the experience to answer your questions, find solutions, determine the responsible parties, and move forward to pursue those responsible for your loved one’s loss of life. We are here to help—contact us today at (509)921-9500 for experienced, compassionate, and aggressive representation.