Wrongful Death

Vancouver, WA Wrongful Death Lawyers

Helping Washington families gain a sense of justice when wrongdoers take a life

Philbrook Law Office, PS, offers compassionate guidance for families who have lost a loved one because of someone else’s negligence. We balance your need to grieve with the need to hold the responsible parties accountable. Our Vancouver wrongful death attorneys offer honest, ethical counsel and long-range support. Contact us today if you need help.

What is a wrongful death claim?

When a loved one’s death was wrongfully caused by the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another, beneficiaries can file a wrongful death lawsuit. We understand that these claims can be emotionally difficult for our clients, especially when their grief is so new and so raw. We also understand that most people aren’t thinking about money; they’re focused on the loss of their loved one.

However, there are often financial problems that come with losing a family member and provider. There are the medical and funeral expenses, lost wages of those grieving, loss of future earnings of the deceased, and loss of companionship and services. Although no amount of money can compensate for the incredible loss the victim’s loved ones are experiencing, obtaining monetary compensation eases the financial stress and anxiety which survivors experience as a result of added expenses or a decrease in family income.

There are generally two types of claims when a loved one dies:

  • A wrongful death action. This is a claim on behalf of beneficiaries authorized by the state statutes for economic and non-economic damages.
  • A survival action. This is a claim brought on behalf of the decedent – as if the decedent had survived the accident. The damages are paid to the approved beneficiaries.

In Washington, these wrongful death claims must generally be brought within three years of the date of the death.

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Who are the beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim in Washington?

The beneficiaries differ depending on whether the victim was an adult or a child.

Adult victims

When an adult dies, the beneficiaries, according to RCW 4.20.010 and RCW 4.20.020, are:

  • The spouse
  • A registered domestic partner
  • A child or children, including stepchildren

If the decedent wasn’t married, didn’t have a domestic partner, and didn’t have children, then the beneficiaries are the parents or siblings of the deceased accident victim.

A minor child

RCW 4.24.010 provides that: “A parent or legal guardian who has regularly contributed to the support of his or her minor child, and a parent or legal guardian who has had significant involvement in the life of an adult child, may maintain or join as a party an action as plaintiff for the injury or death of the child.”

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Seeking damages in a wrongful death claim in Vancouver, WA

The damages you can seek depends on whether the victim was an adult or child:

  • Adult victims. The damages include economic and non-economic losses such as:
    • The loss of the financial support, services, and goods the decedent would have provided the beneficiary had the decedent lived
    • The loss of consortium for spouses
    • The loss of consortium for domestic partner
    • The value of the loss of love, guidance, services, companionship, and affection the decedent would have provided to the beneficiaries.
  • Minor victims. The damages, per 20.010, include economic and non-economic losses such as:
    • Health care expenses
    • Loss of the child's services
    • Loss of the child's financial support
    • Loss of love and companionship of the child
    • Loss of the child's emotional support
    • Injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship
    • Other economic losses

Parents of adult children may qualify for children’s benefits if there is no spouse, registered domestic partner, or children.

Generally, the judge decides the amount each beneficiary is entitled to under the circumstances. If the case is settled, then the amount each beneficiary is entitled to receive should be resolved before the settlement.

How is a survival action handled?

RCW 4.20.060 provides that if a decedent died due to the fault of another, that the beneficiaries are the statutory beneficiaries (the people who are beneficiaries for the wrongful death claim) and not the heirs of the decedent’s estate. The damages include:

  • Any medical and hospital bills
  • The funeral expenses
  • The “pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, or humiliation personal to and suffered by the deceased”
  • Any property damage

If an accident victim has a claim which wasn’t caused by the fault of another and dies before the claim is settled, RCW 4.20.046 provides that the beneficiaries are the people entitled to inherit through the decedent’s estate. These people are either the people named in the will or the people entitled to inherit through the intestate laws.

The damages include those damages that normally would be awarded in a personal injury claim such as medical bills, lost income, scarring and disfigurement, and pain and suffering.

What are the common causes leading to wrongful death claims in WA?

  • Car, truck, and motorcycle All vehicle accidents can kill a driver, a passenger, a pedestrian, or a bicycle rider. Head-on crashes and broadside collisions are especially dangerous. Truck accidents are more fatal than car accidents due to the weight, size, and dimensions of the truck. Motorcycle accidents are often deadly because the motorcycle doesn’t provide any protection for the driver.
  • Nursing home abuse and neglect. If your elderly loved one dies because of abusive or neglectful care in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or rehab facility, you can make a wrongful death claim to hold the facility responsible.
  • Workplace accidents. Workers who work with heavy machinery, on scaffolds or ladders in construction, and with dangerous chemicals are especially prone to workplace deaths. Falls or being struck by an object are also common causes of deaths in the workplace. The families of employees file workers’ compensation claims. The families of non-employees file wrongful death cases.
  • Premises liability. Property owners have a duty to keep their floors and other parts of their stores or operations safe so that anyone rightfully on the property doesn’t fall or get struck by an object. Drowning claims are considered premises liability claims, as are fatal animal attacks.
  • Product defects. Electronic products, cars, trucks, consumer products, toys, and other defective products can kill anyone who uses them or is nearby. The manufacturers, distributors, and sellers may be strictly liable when a wrongful death case is filed.
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Additional considerations in wrongful death cases in Washington State

There are many ways that wrongful death claims are different than other personal injury claims. In wrongful death cases:

  • Washington has rules that limit what the defendants can testify to because the victim isn’t in court to challenge what the defendant has to say.
  • Normally, professionals are called in to file reports and testify as to the value of the economic losses (how much the decedent would have earned) and also as to the value of such intangibles as loss of services and companionship.

The interests of the beneficiaries may vary which can complicate how the case is resolved. It is critically important that you work with an experienced Vancouver, WA wrongful death attorney when you file your claim. In this way, you can focus on your family and your healing process, leaving the intricate details up to us. We can ensure that you do not accept an unfair settlement, and that the negligent parties are held to account for their actions.

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Philbrook Law Office offers compassionate counsel after the death of your loved one

We understand just how devastating the loss of a parent, child, spouse, or domestic partner is. At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver wrongful death lawyers guide families through this extremely difficult time. Our lawyers are often able to settle wrongful death cases when liability is fairly clear. We work aggressively to hold wrongdoers accountable in court if insurance companies are unreasonable. To schedule a consultation at one of our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA, please call 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form. These consultations are free, and all wrongful death claims are handled on contingency. We also serve clients in the greater Portland area and throughout Oregon.