Death is a difficult subject for individuals to discuss. It’s even more difficult when the death was sudden and traumatic.
We’ve spoken with a lot of people over the years about how wrongful death cases and settlements work—at times, it’s easier to read about it than to hear a lawyer discuss it.
What does it mean to be a victim of wrongful death?
“Wrongful death” is the legal term for an unnatural death that occurs as a result of an injury or incident caused by another person’s or company’s bad behavior, wrongful acts, or negligence.
This does not necessarily imply that there was any criminal activity or intent to murder the victim (although in some cases, there may be separate criminal charges). The majority of wrongful death claims are brought as a result of fatal motor vehicle or semi-truck crashes, but some are brought as a result of defective products or designs or as a result of bad acts.
Washington’s wrongful death statute is RCW 4.20.010.
Unjustified death—Right of action.
(1) When a person dies as a result of another person’s wrongful conduct, negligence, or failure, his or her personal representative may sue the person who caused the death for economic and noneconomic damages suffered by the beneficiaries….
Who is eligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit?
Generally, a lawsuit can be filed by the deceased’s next-of-kin, or the closest family relative.
Beneficiaries in Washington State include a surviving spouse, parent, child, or sibling.
It is important to mention that this law changed in 2019, when the Governor signed laws authorizing parents and siblings of adult children to pursue wrongful death claims. Previously, under Washington State Law, parents of adult children could only make limited claims. The law made no provision for the impact of a person’s death on his or her parents or siblings.
For instance: Consider how Washington State’s wrongful death statute has evolved
– A truck collides with and kills a 22-year-old pedestrian. The young man was single and had no children.
In 2018, the law limited the number of compensable damages to “economic” losses. No compensation could be provided for the loss of love, relationship, or companionship—the three most significant components of the loss.
In 2020, his parents and/or adult siblings may sue the truck driver for wrongful death, seeking compensation for both “economic losses” and the loss of love, friendship, and companionship.
Is the plaintiff compensated for filing the lawsuit?
Washington State law mandates that a designated individual be appointed as the Estate’s representative.
The Estate’s chosen representative preserves the rights of all beneficiaries entitled to damages.
We frequently speak with relatives who are obtaining legal information on behalf of the family and are not necessarily the chosen representative. For instance, an aunt may call us for a free consultation, we may appoint one parent as the Estate’s agent, and then speak with a brother throughout the case.
What happens if there are no “properties” or “estate”?
The law takes into account more than physical property. Simply because the deceased person did not leave behind a magnificent mansion and a sizable stock portfolio does not mean they lacked assets.
When we examine a wrongful death case, we consider both physical factors—such as that person’s future economic potential—and intangible factors, such as the loss of that person’s love and companionship.
Additionally, we frequently assist families in establishing an Estate for legal purposes.
However, how is case value determined?
The value of a wrongful death case is determined statistically and in accordance with government criteria. It is determined by a variety of variables, including damages.
We understand that a wrongful death litigation does not bring back a loved one. It is the only thing that our legal system can do that is somewhat “fair”: compensate the remaining family financially.
It is not perfect, but it is the closest we can come to justice.
What do you mean by “damages”?
“Damages” is a legal word that refers to financial compensation granted by a court. When you file a civil lawsuit, you are requesting equitable compensation for the harm and losses caused by another’s negligent behavior.
Our civil justice system acknowledges that nothing can be undone. The only thing we can do is provide you with a pathway for recouping your losses.
Economic damages are the real costs and expenses associated with a wrongful death case, such as final medical bills and funeral or burial expenses. The deceased person’s future earnings may also be included.
Non-economic losses include intangible costs such as the individual’s suffering prior to death and the loss of the individual’s companionship in the lives of surviving family members.
How much does a typical wrongful death settlement cost?
There is no such thing as an average wrongful death compensation, just as there is no such thing as an ordinary death.
These cases are determined by a variety of variables, including the individual’s age at the time of death, the circumstances surrounding their death, and the ability to hold someone legally and financially liable for it. Numerous additional variables are taken into account.
We do have jury judgments and prior settlements that assist us in determining the best conclusion for each case. Speaking with a lawyer can help you have a better understanding of what is achievable in your specific circumstances.
Who is responsible for the cost of a wrongful death settlement?
It depends on the manner in which the death occurred. By and large, wrongful death settlements—or trial verdicts—are funded by insurance policies, not by individuals.
Examples include the manner in which death settlements are paid.
A person is killed in a deadly automobile accident. If another driver caused the crash, that driver would be liable, and their vehicle insurance company should pay. It is uncommon (though occasionally conceivable) for a plaintiff to pay out-of-pocket in a wrongful death claim.
If the car involved in the tragic incident was not the driver’s, we would also examine the owner’s insurance policy.
As a result of medical misconduct, a person dies. A wrongful death claim arising from a medical malpractice case may be reimbursed by the insurance companies covering the hospital or medical facility, as well as the individual doctors’ and medical practitioners’ policies.
The individuals who caused or contributed to the death were at work in these instances; their personal assets are not at risk.
Do you have questions concerning Washington State wrongful death settlements or trials? Carol, Colven, Robison & Shafton offers a no-cost consultation.