Seattle & New York Wrongful Death law firm

All you need to know about Wrongful Death Claims

The wrongful death of a loved one is a terrible experience. The grievous tolls it takes on the surviving family members or loved ones can be physical, mental, and even financial. When such death occurs, it is possible to file a wrongful death claim for compensation. Many wrongful death claims are usually based on the death of a loved one caused by the negligence of another. Common instances include death arising from a vehicle accident or medical malpractice. Other common occurrences include death resulting from workplace accidents, unsafe road conditions, railroad accidents, aviation accidents and so on.

What Are Wrongful Death Claims?

Wrongful death claims are suits brought by a relative of a person (the decedent) that has been wrongfully killed by another. Wrongful death occurs when death result from negligent or wrongful conduct on the part of the responsible party. With a claim of wrongful death, the family or loved one of the decedent can claim compensation against the party who is legally liable for the death. Wrongful death claims are provided for under state laws. The rationale is to ease the added financial burden that the death of a loved one would cause. It is also meant to hold the person or entity responsible for causing the decedent’s death to account.

What must be proved in a wrongful death claim?

The plaintiff must prove the same things that would have been required in negligence had the victim survived. This would entail proof on the following:

  • That the defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
  • That the defendant breached this duty of care;
  • That this breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of the death; and
  • That the claim for damages arises out of the death wrongfully caused.

Who Exactly Can Claim Damages in a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim can be instituted by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim. This could be on behalf of the survivors who had a personal relationship with the victim. You might ask who is a ‘survivor’ under the law? These may be the spouse or children of the decedent. Generally, in all states, a spouse is entitled to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the deceased spouse. Also, the parents of minors or ‘minor’ children may also bring a wrongful death action.

This is as far as agreement in states go. There are differences in state codes as to whether parents of adult children can sue. In some states adult children can sue for wrongful death of their parents, so can decedent’s grown siblings. In others, extended relatives like cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents can sue. In the State of Washington however, the life partner of the deceased can sue. So can anyone who can show financial dependence on the deceased. This would include the state registered domestic partner of the deceased person and the decedent’s sisters or brothers.

What Wrongful Death Entitlement Can the ‘Survivor’ Recover?

The damages you are entitled to in a wrongful death claim are numerous. These however come under two headings.The first is the award for the loss suffered by the deceased from the moment of the negligent act causing the death. The damages in this category include medical expenses and funeral expenses. The second class of damages is to compensate the family or survivors for their losses, financial or otherwise, arising from the wrongful death of the deceased. These may include the loss of companionship, emotional distress, trauma or stress brought on by the decedent’s death.

Some of the damages the ‘survivor’ of a wrongful death can claim include:

  • Medical costs incurred by the deceased victim as a result of injury caused by the action of the defendant;
  • Funeral and Burial costs
  • Loss incurred due to the deceased person's expected income;
  • Loss of any inheritance caused by the death of the deceased;
  • Loss of love and companionship, of care, guidance, and nurturing that the deceased would have provided;
  • Value of the services that the deceased would have provided
  • Loss of consortium (partnership).
  • Punitive damages for the wrong action of the defendant.
  • Interest and attorneys' fees. In many states, including the State of Washington, the survivors can recover interest on the damages from the time they were incurred up to the time they are collected. The survivors can also recover all the legal fees incurred in bringing the lawsuit.

Who May Be Sued for a Wrongful Death?

In wrongful death cases, action can be commenced against any individual or entity that caused the death of the decedent. It can be instituted against persons, companies, government agencies or their employees. For instance, a wrongful death as a result of a car accidents, you may bring an action against:

  • The employer of the driver at fault in the automobile accident;
  • The agency responsible for maintaining the hazardous roadway;
  • A government agent who failed to provide adequate warnings regarding a road hazard that caused the accident
  • The manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty or dangerous part of the vehicle, and even;
  • The persons who sold or gave alcohol to the impaired driver.

Statutory Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

There is a ‘statute of limitations’ on bringing wrongful death lawsuits. This limit however varies from one state to another. Generally, the rule is that a lawsuit has to be filed within two years of the date of the conduct that caused the death of the victim. Note that in the State of Washington, this is Three Years. In some cases, however, the statute of limitations may be as short as one year. Special rules apply to minors such that they can file a suit two years after the age of majority.

In many states, the clock on the statute of limitations does not start until the ‘date of discovery’, the date that harm is discovered. In cases involving Medical Negligence for instance, if the doctor's failure to diagnose cancer is not discovered for years after the error, the statute of limitations may not start until the patient becomes aware of the cancer. All these things may appear complex, but they will be explained carefully to you by an experienced legal practitioner.

While most wrongful death claims can be brought within 2 to 3 years of occurrence, you definitely don’t want to wait till it is too late. This is majorly because of the ‘complex’ nature of wrongful death cases. As such, gathering evidence or putting things in order so as to preserve your claim is very important. This will probably require you to gather witness statements, obtain a private autopsy of the decedent, and hire experts and much more.

Reach out to us for your wrongful death claim

Your lawyer will be very important to the success of your wrongful death claim. Depending on how early in the process you contact a lawyer, you can significantly improve your chances of a positive outcome. At Oshan & Associates our lawyers will work hard to get you the compensation you deserve. Let us help you gain closure and guide you through this grieving moment. Call us at 206-355-3880 or fill out our online contact form as soon as possible to get the best legal representation.