If you have recently suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one due to another person's wrongful actions, you may find yourself at a loss of what to do next. If you are struggling after the loss of someone you love in Washington or Oregon, the attorneys at Schauermann Thayer are available to help you hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Actions in Oregon and Washington
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury claim where the person responsible for causing the accident is held liable for damages. In a personal injury action, the injured person can sue for damages. However, in a wrongful death action, the victim is deceased and it is up to a representative to file a lawsuit to get compensation for the victim's family members.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death actions can occur due to a person's negligent or reckless actions, or even from an intentional action, such as an assault. Wrongful deaths can also occur due to a design or manufacturing flaw in a product which makes the product dangerous. Examples of scenarios which can lead to wrongful death include car accidents and accidents at the workplace.
What is a Wrongful Death Action?
A wrongful death action is a civil lawsuit which is brought against the person or entity who caused your loved one's death. The lawsuit seeks to provide compensation for the family members and survivors of the deceased individual. Wrongful death actions can involve:
- Workplace Accidents
- Bicycle Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Car Accidents
- Product Defects
- Dangerous Premises
Who Brings a Wrongful Death Action in Oregon and Washington?
A wrongful death lawsuit is brought on behalf of the survivors and beneficiaries by a personal representative of the deceased individual's estate. The personal representative is required to act in the best interests of all the survivors in bringing the wrongful death action. This ensures that their specific financial needs are taken into account when filing the wrongful death action.
How do I Know if I'm Eligible to Bring a Wrongful Death Action?
Determining who is eligible to recover compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit must be determined on a state-by-state basis, as wrongful death statutes vary by state. It depends on the legal relationship you had with your loved one.
Wrongful death actions in Washington state are governed by Statute. Specifically, Revised Code of Washington ("RCW") 4.20.020 states that the following individuals are eligible to recover for the wrongful death of an individual:
- The spouse or registered domestic partner of the deceased; and
- The children of the deceased, including stepchildren.
The statute further provides that if an individual died without having been married or having children, then the parents and siblings of the deceased are eligible to recover damages in a wrongful death action only if they were dependent on the decedent for support.
In Oregon, wrongful death actions are controlled by Oregon Revised Statutes section ORS 30.020, which states that the following people can recover from a wrongful death action:
- Parents of the deceased;
- Stepparents of the deceased;
- Children of the deceased;
- Stepchildren of the deceased; and
- Spouse of the deceased.
Oregon's wrongful death statute is broader than Washington's. It further states that an individual may be eligible to recover compensation from a wrongful death action if he or she would have been able to recover from the deceased individual under intestacy, which is a scenario where an individual passes away without a will.
Depending on which state you are filing a wrongful death action in, you may be able to recover compensation from a wrongful death action even if you do not fall into one of the above categories. An experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to determine whether you are entitled to recover compensation from a wrongful death action.
What do I Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Action?
Wrongful death actions which are brought on behalf of the survivors of the deceased are considered civil wrongful death actions. When your loved one is killed by the wrongful actions of a third party, several factors must be proven in order for you to prevail in a wrongful death action. These elements include:
- Duty: It must first be established that a person had a responsibility toward your loved one. This "duty" can be difficult to prove. However, in many circumstances, a person simply maintains a duty to act in a careful manner or refrain from acting in a way that could potentially cause harm to your loved one. If your loved one was killed in a high-speed car accident, for example, then you must simply prove that the person who caused your loved one's death maintained a duty to drive carefully or to not drive in a reckless manner that could cause potential injury.
- Breach of duty: You must also be able to prove that the individual who caused your loved one's death breached a duty when engaging in the actions which caused the death. For example, if your loved one was killed in a high-speed crash, it must be proven that the driver who caused the death was speeding or otherwise failed to obey some sort of traffic law while driving. If a breach of duty cannot be proven, then you will not be able to prevail in a wrongful death action for the death of your loved one.
- Causation: In addition to proving that a duty to your loved one existed and that the duty was breached, you must also be able to prove that the breach of duty actually caused your loved one's accident. If an individual breached a duty to your loved one but was not the ultimate cause of your loved one's death, then a wrongful death action against that individual will be unsuccessful.
- Damages: Damages are often the easiest part of a wrongful death action to prove, as the primary damage incurred in any wrongful death action is the actual death of your loved one. In addition, however, you may have incurred other damages such as hospital expenses, loss of companionship, and emotional suffering following your loved one's death.
Taken altogether, proving these four elements establishes that the person who caused your loved one's death acted "negligently," or in a careless or reckless manner which contributed to your loved one's death. If negligence by the person who caused the death can be proven, then you may be able to succeed in a wrongful death action against the wrongdoer who contributed to your loved one's death.
Is There a Time Limit to File a Wrongful Death Action in Washington or Oregon?
Time is not unlimited to file a wrongful death claim against the loss of your loved one; special laws called statutes of limitations exist in every state which places time limits on such actions. In both Washington and Oregon, a personal representative has three years from the time of s death to file a wrongful death action.
While this may seem like a long period of time, wrongful death actions can be very complicated, and gathering enough evidence to file a lawsuit can take a substantial period of time. While a lawsuit may be at the bottom of your list of priorities following your loved one's death, it may be important to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible. After the statute of limitations has passed, the claim is barred.
What Damages Can I Recover in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If you have suffered the loss of a loved one, a wrongful death action may be able to provide compensation for economic and non-economic damages:
Following the death of your loved one, you may find yourself in a position in which you are struggling financially. Your loved one may have been a significant contributor to your household's income, and without that income, you may be struggling to pay for even day-to-day necessities such as food and shelter. A wrongful death lawsuit can provide financial compensation to offset the financial burden you face, providing for damages for:
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses incurred from putting your loved one to rest;
- Loss of financial support provided by your loved one, such as current income and future income that your loved one would have made had he or she not been killed; and
- Medical expenses which were incurred while trying to save your loved one's life.
While it is easy to put a number on the economic damages outlined above, there is not always a simple way to quantify all that was lost following the death of a loved one. There is no way to calculate the value of the love and compassion which you were stripped of following your loved one's death, and the pain and emotional anguish which you suffered cannot be put into a dollar amount. Nevertheless, non-economic damages attempt to provide some form of compensation for such loss.
Loss of love, companionship, and emotional support because of a loved one's death.
In Oregon, the person who caused your loved one's death may have acted in a way that was so shocking that a court may seek to make an example out of him or her. In such circumstances, a court may decide to award the surviving family members of the deceased additional compensation in the form of punitive damages. Unlike economic and non-economic damages, which are meant to reimburse a surviving family member for costs incurred and love which was lost because of a loved one's death, punitive damages are not meant to compensate the party to whom they are awarded; rather, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish the person who caused your loved one's death. In other words, punitive damages are meant to serve as a warning to others of what can happen if such conduct is repeated, and deter similar conduct from happening in the future.
How are Damages Determined in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Determining wrongful death lawsuit compensation involves many factors. Generally, determining the amount of damages which can be awarded to a survivor depends on the impact the deceased individual's death had on the beneficiaries. For example, if you were wholly dependent upon your loved one for financial support, then you may be awarded more damages than you would if you and your loved one had equal incomes.
Costs such as medical expenses and burial expenses are also taken into account. When it comes to determining the wages of a deceased individual which should be awarded to a survivor, the deceased person's life expectancy becomes a factor, as well as the lost earning potential of the deceased.
Grieving the Loss of a Loved One? We Can Help.
If you are suffering the loss of a family member or someone you love in Washington or Oregon due to the negligent or reckless actions of another person or company, Schauermann Thayer can help. Our attorneys have decades of combined experience bringing wrongful death actions and have helped numerous clients in their search for the justice they deserve following an unexpected loss.
Do not try to fight a wrongful death action on your own; entrust your case to a team of competent attorneys who will fight on your behalf. To learn more about wrongful death actions or to speak with one of our attorneys about your case, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (360) 695-4244 today.