When a loved one dies in a car accident, no amount of money can bring them back or replace the person you lost. However, you may be suffering real damages and losses. You may be able to claim compensation for these. When a person passes away, his medical bills and other debts do not die with him. Sometimes you have to sell assets to cover bills. Funerals usually cost tens of thousands of dollars. To make matters worse, you may wonder how to support your family without your spouse’s income. Finances associated with the sudden loss of a family member can be overwhelming.
You should file a wrongful death claim when someone’s negligent or harmful acts are responsible for your loved one’s death. If your loved one died in a car accident that was not their fault, you may be able to recover damages from the person that caused the accident. It’s normal to wonder if filing a wrongful death lawsuit is the right decision for you. This post intends to provide some insight about wrongful death car accident claims.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
I recorded a short video that answers this question for my YouTube channel, Bill Coats Law. In short, wrongful death lawsuits can only be filed by the personal representative of the deceased. That person can be named in the will, but if there is no named personal representative or no will, then Washington law mandates that if the person is married, their spouse has first right to file a lawsuit. If there is no spouse, the deceased’s adult children may bring the claim. If there are no children, then the parents of the deceased may bring that claim.
Washington Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
A statute of limitations is a law that limits the amount of time allowed to file a certain type of lawsuit. If you do not file a lawsuit for your wrongful death claim within the time frame, you cannot seek recovery for your claim.
In Washington, the statute of limitations is generally three years after the death occurred. Once that time is up, it’s gone. The court will not allow pursuance once the statute of limitations has expired. For more, click on my post “wrongful death claims and the statute of limitations”.
Compensation in a Wrongful Death Case
The value of damages suffered determines a victim’s compensation. Compensatory damages (also called actual damages) account for your financial losses. They also cover intangible damages like pain and suffering.
Economic losses are damages a family suffers that have a specific dollar value. This includes the loss of financial support, funeral costs, and other end-of-life expenses. The deceased person’s dependents are the only people with claims to economic losses. These include a spouse and minor children. There is a specific way to measure pecuniary (financial) loss. We use the deceased person’s net worth, earning capacity, age, life expectancy, and other factors. These losses estimate the financial support the deceased could have provided. The deceased person may not earn a salary or they may be responsible for taking care of the home. In these cases, you should calculate the value of services performed at home. These would include childcare and other domestic work.
Some losses are not tied to financial numbers. They include mental anguish and suffering, and loss of love, companionship, care, consortium, and quality of life. So how does one put a price tag on non-economic damages? Juries should award reasonable compensation for non-economic losses using common sense. As you might imagine, this is not an easy task. Awards for non-economic damages in wrongful death cases can vary wildly.
For more on wrongful deaths:
How to understand a loss of consortium