Wrongful Death: Proving Your Claim in Oregon and Washington State

Filing a wrongful death claim is a serious matter. It means you lost someone you love due to the fault of another person or entity, and now you seek reimbursement for your loss. This includes the damages to cover the unexpected costs of medical care, lost wages, and other potential compensatory damages you incurred.

Moreover, you are filing this claim after you are already emotionally, mentally, financially, and even physically exhausted. The stakes for getting the claim right are high. It may be the difference between getting fair compensation or not.

What is needed to file (and prove) a wrongful death claim in Oregon or Washington State?

Filing a wrongful death claim can be time-consuming because it is important to make sure the supporting evidence is accurate and complete. Your case can be fought and won only if all the following elements are properly proven.

Duty of Care

The person or entity in question must have had a duty of care to your loved one to take action (or inaction) to prevent harm, including death. Examples that express what this means include:

  • A worksite supervisor who is not your loved one's employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment, including policies and safety gear, when necessary.
  • Manufacturers of products have a legal responsibility to ensure the products are safely designed and made with due care so that a consumer is not harmed by the product when using it according to the instructions.
  • Motorists have a legal responsibility to adhere by the rules of the road when driving to prevent auto accidents that could cause injury or death.

To prove the person or entity -- who is the subject of your claim -- had a duty of care, laws, policies, and other standards established by the industry or by federal or state agencies can be informative. Duty of care is not always a difficult element to prove because the duty is generally already established and in many cases understood by the public.

Breach of Duty

The person or entity must have breached his or her duty of care. A breach can occur either through negligence or -- to a lesser extent -- with intent, and through this negligence or intentional act, your loved one was killed. Generally, this means the person did not do something that he or she should have reasonably done or that he or she did something that should not have been done. Examples include:

  • A worksite supervisor who is not your loved one's employer failed to provide safety equipment.
  • A manufacturer failed to notice the improper manufacture of a product.
  • A motorist texted messages while driving a vehicle.

Proving the duty of care was breached will depend in large part on the facts of the case. Did an employer fail to provide safety equipment or did the employee fail to wear it? Did the manufacturer fail to produce the product properly or did the consumer fail to use it according to instructions or in a foreseeable and reasonable manner? Did the motorist who drove allegedly drunk actually cause the accident or was the accident caused by or in part by the decedent? This element can be harder to establish depending on the nature and complexity of the case.

Causation

The breach of duty must have caused your loved one's death. It is not enough to show a duty and a breach of that duty, but the breach must have been the event that caused the death of your loved one. It must be shown that the negligence directly caused your loved one's death and that his or her death would not have occurred but for this negligence -- or in some cases, intent. Examples of linking the breach to the death include:

  • Safety equipment used onsite at a lumberyard was known to malfunction, but the lumber company failed to pay for its timely repairs, and your loved one, who was not a direct employee of the lumber company, was injured and subsequently died after being harmed by the equipment -- this would not have happened if the company had provided safe, properly functioning equipment.
  • A product's defective design -- like a defective power tool that caused electrocution and but for that power tool's defect, your loved one would not have been killed.
  • distracted driver swerved and struck your loved one's vehicle, killing him or her instantly -- your loved one would have not been killed but for the driver swerving and striking the vehicle.

Proving causation is fact-intensive and may require expert testimony, technical and/or scientific knowledge, as well as other expertise and evidence.

Injury

You must have suffered damages resulting from your loved one's death. It is not enough to prove that another person or entity was negligent and caused your loved one's death. To collect compensation for damages, you must have suffered injury yourself. This can include things like:

  • Loss of future income
  • Hospital bills
  • Loss of household contributions
  • Loss of companionship
  • Other.

Proving economic damages like loss of future income can be easier to show than non-economic damages like loss of companionship. In the former, pay stubs or employment contracts can be used to calculate future income while there is nothing concrete to indicate the value of the loss of your loved one. There are, however, different ways to calculate these compensatory damages, and your attorney at Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS can help identify the best calculation for you.

What is the burden of proof in wrongful death claims in Oregon and Washington?

Unfortunately, a wrongful death can happen just about any way and by any means at any given time. Your loved one may have been:

The standard established to prove the four elements above is based on a preponderance of the evidence as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt, like in criminal cases. Thus, the burden to prove a wrongful claim -- the onus of which is on you as the claimant -- is lighter than a criminal case. Lighter, however, should not be confused with easy.

Though the standard of proof does not carry as much weight as required in a criminal case, it is still pretty significant. Preponderance of the evidence basically means the defendant “more likely than not” is responsible for the wrongful death. Using the above examples, this means:

  • The employer more likely than not did not provide properly functioning equipment for its employees to use.
  • The manufacturer of a product more likely than not provided a defective product to consumers.
  • The motorist more likely than not caused the accident that killed your loved one.

Expect that these propositions may be heavily contested. The defense may have its own experts to testify, for example, the duty was not breached, or the damages are inflated.

File Your Claim without Anxiety: Contact Experienced, Compassionate Wrongful Death Attorneys in Oregon and Washington State

If your loved one was injured by another person and died from those injuries, then -- if you qualify as a beneficiary -- you may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim. Whether the incident occurred in Washington State or Oregon, you can depend on us providing the assistance you need. We are thorough. We care. And we work hard to obtain just and fair compensation for our clients. Even if you are unsure if you can file a wrongful death claim, contact us today for a free consultation to determine what your options are.

At Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards PS, it is our aim to ease your stress by proving your wrongful death claim and dealing with the insurance company and their attorneys directly so that you don't have to do it. Contact us today for a free consultation to speak to a wrongful death attorney who is compassionate, resourceful, and thorough when it comes to listening to your concerns and developing a claim on your behalf.

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The attorneys at Schauermann Thayer handle personal injury, wrongful death, and insurance actions for clients throughout the Southwest Washington and Portland, Oregon area.

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