Losing a loved one to a preventable accident can be painful. In addition to the emotional trauma, you may also face significant financial responsibilities, especially if the deceased was the primary earner for your family.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you hold responsible parties accountable for their actions and provide you with a source of financial relief to help cover expenses such as medical bills and funeral costs. If you’re considering pursuing a wrongful death claim in Seattle, read on—in the next sections, we cover important laws and information related to wrongful death claims in Washington.

WA Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Cases

If you’re considering pursuing a wrongful death claim, you must be aware of the statute of limitations—the law that sets time limits on when people can initiate legal actions after an injury.

Washington’s statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits is three years. This means you have three years from the date of the deceased passing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Once the deadline passes, the court may deem your claim invalid.

The time limit varies for families who don’t immediately realize that their loss resulted from another’s negligence. For instance, if the true cause of a loved one’s death is discovered later, the three-year statute of limitations begins from the moment of this discovery.

We advise filing your wrongful death claim as soon as possible. Waiting too long can lead to crucial evidence eroding or becoming unavailable, witness memories fading and opportunities to gather vital information slipping away.

WA Wrongful Death Laws

Washington has several laws in place related to wrongful deaths. Here’s an overview of the most important ones:

  • Eligibility to File. In Washington, the person who files a wrongful death claim is typically the personal representative of the deceased’s estate as named in the deceased’s will. However, if no will exists or the named representative cannot serve, the court has the authority to appoint a suitable person. In cases involving the death of a child without a spouse, partner or children of their own, the parents or legal guardians have the right to file a claim.
  • Types of Damages. Damages in wrongful death cases can include economic losses like medical bills, funeral expenses and lost future earnings, as well as non-economic damages such as loss of companionship, love and emotional support. If the victim was a child, along with general damages, the beneficiaries can also recover damages such as loss of parent and child relationship, value of lost services the child would have contributed over their lifetime and loss of future financial support.
  • Damage Caps. Unlike most states, Washington does not cap the amount you can recover for economic and non-economic damages. However, Washington doesn’t usually include punitive damages in wrongful death cases.
  • Tort System. Wrongful death claims in Washington are subject to the state’s comparative fault system. This system requires the court to evaluate the actions of both the deceased and the defendant to determine fault. Consequently, the court adjusts the damages owed based on the deceased’s share of fault. For instance, if the court finds the deceased was 25% responsible for an accident resulting in wrongful death, the judge reduces the total compensation the family or estate receives by 25%.

Wrongful Death Settlement Considerations

In Washington, insurance companies must acknowledge your claim within 10 working days of filing. They will also send you all the necessary paperwork. After you submit this paperwork, the insurance company has 15 working days to inform you whether they will accept or reject your claim or if they need additional time for investigation. Note that even simple wrongful death cases can take several months to resolve, with more complex cases potentially taking years.

Upon reaching a settlement, attorneys deduct their fees, which typically range from 30% to 40%, from the total settlement or award. The court distributes the remaining sum to the beneficiaries as the law specifies. These beneficiaries usually include the deceased’s surviving spouse or registered domestic partner, children, stepchildren or, in their absence, the deceased’s parents or siblings.

You typically won’t owe any taxes on the settlement or jury award from a wrongful death claim, as these funds are not considered taxable income in Washington.

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personal injury,

Last Update: June 13, 2024

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