Wrongful Death


When a loved one dies as the result of negligence or recklessness, family members are overwhelmed with grief, anger, and confusion as to what to do next. Often the at-fault party will deny liability and will seek to place blame elsewhere, even on the victim. The legal process can be overwhelming for family members who are mourning and trying to come to terms with what has happened.

A wrongful death can happen in a variety of ways, from a car or truck accident to a medical procedure that goes tragically wrong. Regardless of the cause, a wrongful death is always heartbreaking, and the resulting claim takes a special kind of experience to handle effectively.

An experienced attorney like Bill Coats handles the entire wrongful death claim from start to finish, allowing the family to begin healing. When a wrongful death happens, the legal stakes are higher and more challenging, the at-fault parties fight harder, and the process can be stressful for surviving family members.

Your Next Step

Even though taking legal action is not the top priority for families who have lost a loved one, it is important for survivors to discuss retaining a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.

We know there is emotional trauma when a loved one passes away, in addition families often face considerable difficulties and hardships without the financial support of the deceased. The financial compensation from a wrongful death claim can help ease this burden.

There is a deadline for submitting a wrongful death claim. The legal term is called the statute of limitations, and it differs from state to state and depending on the type of lawsuit. Once the statute of limitation expires, courts no longer can offer compensation to victims, and lawsuits cannot be filed except under unusual circumstances.

Bill Coats has experience recovering compensation that recognizes the value of the deceased and helps the surviving family recover from their loss.

If you have lost a loved one unexpectedly due to the reckless, careless, or negligent actions of another person or corporation, call to schedule a consultation with wrongful death attorney Bill Coats to see if he can help.

Wrongful Death Law


RCW 4.20.010 – Wrongful death, Right of action.

When the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another his or her personal representative may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death; and although the death shall have been caused under such circumstances as amount, in law, to a felony.

RCW 4.20.020 – Wrongful death, Beneficiaries of action.

Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren, of the person whose death shall have been so caused. If there be no wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, or such child or children, such action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters, or brothers, who may be dependent upon the deceased person for support, and who are resident within the United States at the time of his or her death.

In every such action the jury may give such damages as, under all circumstances of the case, may to them seem just.

Wrongful death claims are civil actions filed in civil court (either State or Federal Court depending on the circumstance) by the “personal representative” of an individual who has died due to the negligence or misconduct of another person, government, or corporation.

Washington law allows the family members of the decedent (called “beneficiaries”) to hire a lawyer to file a wrongful death suit in Superior Court seeking monetary damages.

In Whatcom County, the Superior Court is in Bellingham. In Skagit Count the Superior Court is in Mt. Vernon. If a case needs to be filed Federal Court, the closest one is in Seattle. A wrongful death case is designed to provide compensation for relatives who depended upon the deceased for financial and emotional support.

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What Families Need to Know


Lawyer Bill Coats has helped clients dealing with a wide variety with wrongful death claims, including:

$2.5M to the family of a teenager killed in a jet-ski accident while celebrating the holidays with a friend’s family, entrusted with his safety and care

$500,000 to the family of an 8-year old boy maliciously killed by a neighborhood teenager who was supposed to be on supervised probation.

Families of wrongful death victims are awarded financial compensation for losses caused by their loved one’s death.

Four Washington State laws govern what is recoverable:

  • Where the decedent is a child, parents may recover amounts for “… loss of love and companionship of the child and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship.” (RCW 4.24.010)
  • Where there is a spouse or child, a “… jury may give such damages as, under all circumstances of the case, may to them be just.” (RCW 4.20.010)
  • Compensation for pain and suffering in anticipation of death if the deceased consciously knew death to be imminent. (RCW 4.20.010)
  • Loss of decedent’s anticipated future earnings. The deceased person’s estate is entitled to money to compensate for the lost future earnings over the decedent’s normal life expectancy. (RCW 4.20.046)
  • Medical, funeral, and burial expenses related to the death. All costs from medical care services should be repaid including ambulance, hospital, surgery, funeral, and doctors’ bills. Depending upon the type of insurance coverage available, the family may be entitled to receive payment of some of these bills regardless of who caused the accident. (RCW 4.20.060)

Only certain family members can file a wrongful death claim, and deadlines and Washington State statutes affect these cases. It is crucial to quickly find an experienced attorney to handle a wrongful death claim.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death


The majority of wrongful death claims stem from vehicle accidents in which one party commits an act of negligence. The most common causes of wrongful death claims in Bellingham and Whatcom County are: Car Accidents, Motorcycle Accidents, Bicycle Accidents and Pedestrian Accidents.

One very common link between all types of accidents and injuries is the presence of a distracted driver. With the rise in the use of smart phones, hand-held devices, and other small electronics, the incidence of distracted driving accidents has risen sharply. If distracted driving was a factor in a wrongful death, go to this page to learn more.

Accidents that involve drunk drivers can be extremely scary and stressful. Often behaviors of drunk or drugged drivers such as running red lights, weaving into the path of oncoming traffic, wrong-way driving, speeding and tailgating have devastating consequences. Here is more information on what to do if drugs or alcohol were involved in a wrongful death.

There is nothing more devastating than having a loved one die due to someone else’s negligence. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help by handling all legal issues while the family can focus on mourning and healing.

To get your questions answered, contact Bellingham personal injury attorney Bill Coats today by calling 360-303-0601.

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