A serious injury caused by the carelessness or recklessness of another person is a terrible thing, but the untimely death of family member or loved one at the hands of negligent stranger represents a truly horrific loss and a tragedy of the very highest order.
In the aftermath of such a loss, the decedent’s grieving spouse and family members will face multiple, heart-wrenching decisions in making final arrangements for their loved one. They will also wisely wish to consider whether legal action is available and appropriate in order to obtain some redress and restitution for their great loss.
When considering such a claim, it is important to understand the law that governs such claims. What follows is a brief overview of wrongful death claims that will hopefully answer many of the questions that arise. Nevertheless, this is not a complete or exhaustive explanation of the law, and it is always best to discuss the specific circumstances of a potential claim with experienced legal counsel.
Who Can Make A Wrongful Death Claim?
In Washington surviving spouses, children and stepchildren of the deceased are entitled to pursue wrongful death claims. In addition, parents, sisters and brothers who were dependent on the deceased are also entitled to pursue claims.
What Damages Are Recoverable?
The damages recoverable as compensation to those entitled to pursue wrongful death claims include the following:
A. Non-Economic Damages
(1) A Spouse’s Loss of “Marital Consortium”: This would include, for example, emotional support, love, affection, care, services and companionship.
(2) A Child Or Stepchild’s Loss of “Parental Consortium”: This would include, for example, “love, care, companionship, and guidance”. WPI 31.03.01
(3) The Decedent’s Pre-Death “General Damages”: This would provide compensation for pain, suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, humiliation and fear experienced by the decedent prior to death. See RCW 4.20.060 and Bingaman v. Grays Harbor Comm’ty Hosp., 103 Wn.2d 831 (1985).
B. Economic Damages
(1) Economic Losses (Both Past And Future) By Surviving Spouse, Children, Stepchildren And Dependent Parents, Sisters Or Brothers: This would include any benefit of value of, including money, goods, and services that they would have received from the decedent if the decedent had lived and benefits or value, including money, goods, and services that the decedent would have contributed in the future had the decedent lived.” See RCW 4.20.046.
(2) Estate Loss: This would include, if applicable, the “net accumulations” lost to the decedent’s estate in light of the decedent’s “age, health, life expectancy, occupation, and habits of industry, responsibility, and thrift” taking into account “the amount that the decedent reasonably would have consumed as personal expenses or reasonably would have contributed to others during the decedent’s lifetime and deducting this from his expected future earnings to determine the net accumulations.” See RCW 4.20.046.
(3) The “Last Illness” Healthcare Expenses And Funeral/Memorial Expenses. These additional expenses would be recoverable. See RCW 4.20.060 and Orcutt v. Spokane County, 58 Wn.2d 846 (1961).
Liability means legal fault. In order to successfully pursue a wrongful death claim, it is necessary to prove that the person (or company) who is believed to have caused the death is legally at fault. Such fault may be based upon personal (or corporate) carelessness, negligence, recklessness or upon the sale of an unsafe product or upon unsafe property or construction site conditions.
It is crucial for your attorney to have access to the very best evidence and information in order to evaluate and prove legal fault. You can make this task much easier if you contact your attorney as soon after the incident as possible while the evidence and witnesses’ memories are the freshest.
If you have questions about a potential wrongful death claim, we stand ready to assist. We will meet with you and provide an initial legal assessment of your claim at no cost to you.
We will respect your grief and, if we are retained to pursue your claim, we will provide caring and experienced legal representation.