When a close family member dies because of the actions or negligence of another person or an entity like a business, you may be able to file a wrongful death suit against the party you believe is responsible. While this certainly can’t bring your loved one back, it can provide needed compensation and some justice for the pain and suffering.
As a civil suit, a wrongful death claim is separate from any criminal penalties those responsible may face and the outcome of a criminal case. Not all wrongful deaths involve criminal actions.
While people commonly think of wrongful death suits as a means of seeking justice for the person who was killed, their purpose is to hold defendants liable for the harm suffered by surviving loved ones.
Who can bring a wrongful death suit?
Wrongful death statutes vary somewhat among the states – particularly regarding what kind of damages can be sought and who specifically can bring the case. Let’s look briefly at Washington’s wrongful death laws.
A wrongful death suit can be brought when “the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.” Those eligible to file a wrongful death action in Washington are people with the following relationships to the deceased:
- Spouses and “state-registered” domestic partners
- Children and stepchildren
They can seek both economic and non-economic damages that “may to them seem just.”
Even if you didn’t rely on your loved one for financial support, you likely still have non-economic damages as well as potentially some economic damages.
Wrongful death suits don’t always involve unsafe premises or processes – such as an amusement park ride that malfunctioned. However, they can help call attention to a problem – such as unsafe conditions – and help remedy those conditions so that others aren’t harmed. They can also help give some peace of mind to survivors that they’ve taken action to help address a dangerous situation.