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Understanding Wrongful Death Cases

Hughes Robbins, P.S. June 5, 2012

Washington’s wrongful death and survival statutes can be very difficult to understand. In general, wrongful death actions may be brought for the benefit of the wife, husband, children or step-children of the deceased. If there is no wife, husband or child, then a wrongful death action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents or siblings. Recovery for parents is treated differently by the law, however, and grieving families often become frustrated with limitations on their ability to recover for their tremendous personal loss.

Traditionally, parents are allowed to recover damages for the wrongful death of their child including medical, hospital, and medication expenses, as well as the loss of consortium (love, companionship, services and support) that the child provided to the parents. Washington is among only three states that preclude recovery of such damages by parents if their child is over the age of eighteen.

Parents only have standing to bring a cause of action for the death of their adult child if there are no primary beneficiaries (spouse or children) and they can establish substantial financial dependency on the deceased. Dependency in this context does not mean total dependency, but some dependency is required. In particular, parents may recover for the economic damages sustained by the loss of the child’s “services and support.” Loss of services and support damages are based on the anticipated contributions the deceased child would have made to his or her support. Where parents are unable to work and their child contributed substantially to their household expenses, for example, is a situation which the parents would be likely to establish that they were dependent on their child for services and support. Similarly, where a parent has a disability and their child was their primary caretaker, the parent is likely to recover for the costs associated with employing a new caretaker.

In the State of Washington, proceeding with a wrongful death case (especially involving children) requires knowledge and understanding of very complex laws. If you need assistance or have any questions regarding a potential wrongful death claim, please call Scott Hughes.