As per the Washington State Department of Transportation, there were 122,337 motor vehicle crashes in the state in 2016. Of those, 508 involved fatalities.
Like every other state, Washington has its own wrongful death statute. It’s found at RCW 4.20.010. It provides that when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another, a personal representative of that deceased person may bring an action for damages against the person who caused the death.Who can file a wrongful death case in Washington?
The law in Washington only allows certain people to file a wrongful death case. Those individuals are:
- The personal representative of the decedent’s estate
- The spouse or registered domestic partner of the decedent
- A child, the children or step-children of the decedent
- If the decedent had none of the above, his or sibling or siblings
It’s not a criminal case
A wrongful death case is a civil case. Regardless of whether the person who caused the death is being prosecuted in the criminal courts, a wrongful death case can be brought. That’s because of the fact that criminal courts simply don’t have the authority to award damages. Without the civil remedy, the survivors of a person who died as a result of a wrongful death would have no remedy for damages. Even if a wrongdoer is found not guilty in a criminal case, he or she can still be found guilty in a civil case and be held liable for damages. That’s because there’s a different burden of proof in the civil case. In the criminal case, the defendant must be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, he or she need only be found guilty by a preponderance of the evidence. That means that the plaintiff’s version of events need only be more likely true than not true.
Auto accidents caused by the carelessness and negligence of a driver consist of the largest percentage of wrongful death cases. By filing a wrongful death action, the survivors of the decedent can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages that they’ve suffered as a result of the death of their family member. Those damages might consist of:
- Future lost earnings
- Lost benefits from employment
- Loss of marital or family relationship, care and guidance
- Funeral and burial expenses
Washington’s survival statute
Most people don’t know that this statute exists. It’s ordinarily brought as a second count of a wrongful death case. It’s found at RCW 4.20.046. It permits additional damages aside from those in a wrongful death action, so long as the deceased person survived for a period of time after the accident and then died from injuries that were the direct and proximate cause of the crash. For example, a person may have been gravely injured in a motor vehicle accident due to the negligence of somebody else and experienced a protracted period of pain, suffering and medical expenses before dying. Those damages aren’t compensable under Washington’s wrongful death statute, but they are compensable under Washington’s survival statute.
The statute of limitations
The general rule in Washington is that a personal representative has three years from the date of an accident to file a wrongful death action. You don’t want to wait too long to talk to us. Evidence can get lost or destroyed, and witnesses might not be able to be located anymore. Since medical bills will continue to come in the mail, and collection agencies will continue to call, we recommend that you speak with us as soon as possible after an accident. Once you retain us, you won’t hear from those collection agencies again.
Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer
No amount of money will comfort you and bring your family member back to you after a sudden and tragic death. Don’t trust the opposing insurer at all, and don’t try to resolve any claims that you might have on your own. Washington’s wrongful death and survival of action statutes are highly complex and require the involvement of an experienced, aggressive and compassionate wrongful death attorney. Don’t give the opposing insurer any advantage. Contact our offices as soon as possible after the death of your family member, and we’ll arrange for a free consultation and case evaluation. If we’re retained, no legal fees are due unless we obtain a settlement or verdict. Our mission is to hold the person who caused your family member’s death accountable and obtain the full compensation that you need for your future.