Death is so often a terrible tragedy for so many, especially if death is an untimely one. In the event that someone else is responsible for that death, not only is there the tragedy of loss, but there is also the anger, sadness, confusion that it would not have had to happen were it not for that person or persons’ actions. For people who are looking to file a wrongful death claim in Washington State, a common question that comes up is what the statute of limitation for that filing is.
What are the circumstances that would allow for a wrongful death claim?
First off, it is important to understand what exactly constitutes a wrongful death. A wrongful death may include a criminal conviction alongside it, but a wrongful death lawsuit is specifically a civil matter. Furthermore, even in the event that a person is found not guilty in a criminal court, that does not mean that they will be found not liable in a civil court. The reason being that these courts of law have different burdens of proof in order to demonstrate liability, with criminal courts requiring a higher burden of proof in order to find the defendant guilty.
Meanwhile, the civil court merely requires that the plaintiff can show that the defendant is, at minimum, 51 percent liable for the death. Basically, there can be responsibility belonging to the wronged party (in this case, that party being the victim), but if most of the liability lands on the defendant, they will owe financial restitution as a result. It should also be noted that the defendant need not have caused the death maliciously, although malice can certainly be a motivating factor in wrongful death. Many wrongful deaths are caused by negligence or recklessness, such as if the defendant was responsible for a person’s death in a car accident.
Although it can take many forms; a dog attack leading to the victim succumbing to their injuries, a poorly guarded pool where a child drowns, a poorly maintained driveway that leads to a lethal slip and fall, feeding someone something they know they are deathly allergic to without warning them, a campfire that went awry and spread through a neighborhood, etc. Corporations and other organizations may also be held liable in a wrongful death claim, such as if a person experiences a fatal injury while on the job, or if a product is defective and starts a fire. However, this might be difficult to deal with, as some organizations have pretty powerful legal teams and the ability to stretch the case out longer than most people can if they so choose. Having legal representation from law firms such as Strong Law Attorneys does a lot to counter that.
Being that the victim in this situation is not around to be able to file a wrongful death claim, the claim has to be filed by someone who has the legal right to do so, such as family members. This also allows for a spouse or one or more children to be the person to file. It should be noted that someone who is not in a legally recognized partnership does not apply in this case. This means that someone’s boyfriend cannot file if his girlfriend passed away due to the actions of another. In the event that the only person who can file is the victim’s child, that also depends on their age. In the event of a minor earning compensation, they will typically have their guardian be the one to handle the filing. As far as age goes, a minor will typically receive more compensation than an adult child, as the impact of the loss will hurt them more financially as a minor than as an adult.
What is the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim in Washington State?
For those who do not know, a statute of limitations refers to how long a person has before they are no longer allowed to file a claim against someone for having wronged them in some way or another. That being said, there are some exceptions to this rule, which we will discuss later. Statutes of limitations vary from state to state, so you cannot go off of, say, what you may know of Oregon’s statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim. That being said, the statute of limitations doesn’t have a massive variance, and a lot of states do have the same limitation.
In Washington State, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is three years from the date of death. Note that it is from the date of death, not from the date of the incident. This is because the actual death may not result immediately on the date of the incident. For example, if someone is severely injured from the incident, and four years later, these injuries eventually cause them to succumb, the person responsible would be liable in a wrongful death claim.
It is also important to note that there exists a “discovery” rule. I.e., the person responsible having been discovered four years later to have caused it, they would also be liable in that situation. A person is not, or at least should not be, able to escape from liability through a technicality, especially if they engaged in behavior that involved covering up their involvement.