What constitutes a wrongful death case, and so the compensation survivors might expect, varies from state to state. Wa State Law (RCW 4.20.046 and 424.010) now says if you are 18 and do not have any independents, you do not have a wrongful death case. The only claims are the economic claims based of the estate. Only if they have dependents. Remedies that are denied include the estate being limited to the pain and suffering incurred between the accident and death.
Attorney Lawrence Kahn explains some weaknesses in this Washington law, in an article for AVVO.com, “So, for example, as grieving parents of a minor child who lived for several weeks after having been hit in a crosswalk and severely injured by a drunk driver, there can be no recovery for the child's pain and suffering. Or, imagine an elderly person who is widowed with no children. Unless there is a parent (very unlikely) or a sibling dependent upon them for support (also unlikely) there can be no cause of action for the pain and suffering between the time of injury and the time of death. This means that the estate of the victim who is quite old with little lost income gets very little, if anything at all, under Washington's statutory wrongful death scheme.”
At our firm, STJSE (Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS), we practice in both Washington and Oregon, and Oregon State Law pertaining to the same type of cases is very different:
Under Oregon 30.020: (b) Would justly, fairly and reasonably have compensated the decedent for disability, pain, suffering and loss of income during the period between injury to the decedent and the decedents death; (c) Justly, fairly and reasonably compensates for pecuniary loss to the decedents estate;”
This means that the victims estate may seek to recoup more compensation from the responsible entity in Oregon, than is currently allowed in Washington. This applies equally to all age groups — young and old. What about wrongful death among the elderly? Consider the fact that in the last quarter-century bed rails have been known to cause nearly 500 deaths — and some experts think that a great deal of those cases go unreported. The dangers are well-known to nursing homes, but federal minimum standards are voluntary — the homes must freely choose to use beds with rails that are up to standard.
At STJSE we are pleased that our profession, through the civil justice system, has had a positive impact on designs of beds specifically related to those used in nursing homes, and we will continue to advocate for improvements to the Washington State Law. We contend that estates should be more fairly compensated and thus responsible parties will be more motivated to reduce problems in design and use of beds that are up to standard for elder care, for just one example. And, with regards to the first case discussed above, we believe that survivors should expect just compensation for their suffering and the suffering of children older than 18 that have no dependents who have been victims of a wrongful death. We will be happy to review your potential wrongful death case, at no charge.