The Wrongful Death Laws that Just Won’t Die

Wrongful Death | Children | ride the ducks | survival case | Washington State Law

By Steven J. Anglés

August 1, 2018

Back on February 22, 2018, I wrote a blog post about how unfair and outdated Washington State’s laws concerning wrongful death is. I was optimistic that these laws, which date back to the early 1900s, were finally going to be changed in favor of a better approach for families who have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. While the Washington State Senate voted in favor of changing these laws, the majority of the Washington House of Representatives did not. So, nothing has changed.

Having represented parents, children, spouses, and siblings in motor vehicle cases where a loved one was unintentionally killed, this news was extremely disheartening. While representing victims of the 2015 Ride the Ducks crash on the Aurora Bridge, our firm was hopeful that the unfortunate situations some families faced as a result of these laws could be changed. Now, we will have to see if any headway can be made at some point in the future.

In the meantime, here are some quick points for families who want to pursue a wrongful death case under the existing laws in Washington State:

  • There are two potential types of cases in these situations: “wrongful death,” and “survival” cases.
  • “Wrongful death” refers to a case where specific individuals who are left behind after the death of a loved one bring a case to recover what these family members have lost. An example of a loss would be monetary support, as when a child loses a parent who can no longer provide for their schooling, food, and other expenses.
  • “Survival” cases are ones which focus on the claims the deceased person could have brought themselves if they had survived. Examples include money they would have earned by working over their lifetime, or the pain and suffering they had to endure because of their life-threatening injuries.
  • Not just any family member (also known as “beneficiaries”) can bring a wrongful death or survival case under Washington State law. For example, an 18-year-old might be able to bring claims for the loss of their 35-year-old parent. However, if an unmarried and childless 18-year-old dies wrongfully, her grieving parents may have no claims.
  • Parents whose children die wrongfully in the United States can’t bring any claims against the at-fault party if those parents weren’t in the US at the time of their child’s death.

You can see from these few points how frustrating and confusing these situations can be for families, especially when going through an already difficult time. We will continue to push for change, and keep our eye out for the next time these laws are brought up in the legislature. In the meantime, contact your congressional representatives and let them know it’s time to change these laws.