The statute of limitations for wrongful death in Washington state is typically three years from the date of the victim’s death, according to RCW 4.16.080. The decedent’s personal representative can receive compensation for the surviving family members via this action, per RCW 4.16.010.
If they miss the statute of limitations, they may lose their right to recover any money from the party responsible unless there is an exception to the legal deadline. However, a wrongful death attorney with our firm can help you comply with the statute of limitations to help achieve a positive outcome.
What Exceptions Exist to the Washington Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations?
There are some exceptions to the wrongful death statute of limitations in the state of Washington, such as:
The Discovery Rule
The discovery rule simply states that the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case does not begin running on the date of death but on the date that the family discovers the death resulted from a negligent act.
The date of discovery is crucial when loved ones may not have known about the circumstances surrounding the decedent’s death. For example, they may have been told their family member died of a heart attack, only to discover a year later that the heart attack was brought on by the wrong dose of medication.
In most cases, the statute of limitations would begin when they discovered the information about the medication and not a year before when the patient actually died. This would give the family more time to bring a wrongful death case.
The Defendant Has Left the State
In the event that another person’s negligence led to a wrongful death, that person can not simply flee the state, waiting for the statute of limitations to run out. Under RCW 4.16.180, the law makes an exception in certain cases to allow the statute to toll or stop while the liable party is out of state or in hiding within the state. It will subsequently begin to run when they return to the state or come forward.
Figuring out the filing deadline for your wrongful death case and determining which exceptions apply can be complex. You may want to hire an attorney who can identify the exact deadline that applies under the laws of Washington.
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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Case in the State of Washington?
By law, only the decedent’s personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state of Washington. The personal representative is the executor of the decedent’s will.
They must ensure that the estate is distributed among the proper beneficiaries and that all debt is settled according to the law. The decedent would have chosen their executor prior to death, or the state will appoint someone to this position.
Who does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Benefit?
While the personal representative must file the lawsuit in most cases, the damages are distributed to the wrongful death victim’s surviving family members, according to RCW 4.20.020. Spouses, children, and stepchildren qualify to receive the compensation. If there is no spouse, registered domestic partner, or children, the lawsuit is to the benefit of the decedent’s parents or siblings.
What Can Families Recover Compensation for in Washington Wrongful Death Claims?
Surviving family members can obtain compensation for the losses resulting from the death that directly impacts their lives. For instance, if the victim was the sole breadwinner in the home, supporting their spouse and children, the family could recover lost financial support. Depending on whether the victim suffered personally before death, the family may also be able to recover compensation for their deceased loved one’s losses.
Through a wrongful death claim or lawsuit, it’s possible to collect damages for losses, such as:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost financial support
- Medical expenses
- Loss of services
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of guidance
- Loss of care
- Loss of protection
- Grief and other emotional distress
- The decedent’s financial losses
- The decedent’s pain and suffering
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Knowing What Legal Action to Take Following a Wrongful Death
Following a wrongful death, your attorney can help your family pursue:
A Wrongful Death Action
The wrongful death action is a lawsuit that the personal representative can bring on behalf of the decedent’s family. The losses the family has suffered are recovered through this civil suit. The wrongful death attorney handling the case would seek damages for the family’s financial losses or grief, for instance.
A Survival Action
The survival action is a cause of action that, as its name suggests, survives the decedent. RCW 4.20.046 stipulates that if the victim would have been able to file a lawsuit against the negligent party before their death, the right to pursue that lawsuit still exists after their death. This right transfers to the personal representative who seeks compensation on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
Here, the personal representative can only seek financial recovery for the damages that the decedent personally suffered before their death. For example, if the decedent’s car was totaled during a car accident or they suffered severe physical trauma before succumbing to injuries or complications the accident caused, the personal representative would seek compensation for these damages.
An attorney can help bring a wrongful death action and a survival action simultaneously. Ultimately, both benefit the victim’s surviving family members, as the damages retrieved in a survival action go to the decedent’s estate, which is then divided among legal beneficiaries, at least in part.
Van Law Can Help You Meet the WA Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s reckless actions, you can seek justice and hold them accountable. A Washington wrongful death lawyer at Van Law can take your case and help you file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations runs out. Call us today for a free consultation.
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