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Necessary Elements in a Wrongful Death Claim 

The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III June 13, 2023

Wrongful death form and stethoscope on a tableLosing a loved one is always difficult to bear, especially if the death was the result of someone else’s negligent or intentional acts. If this happened, you may want to seek justice by holding the responsible party accountable for the tragic loss.  

However, suing someone for wrongful death can be challenging because you must prove certain elements of the lawsuit. As a wrongful death attorney at The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III, I help the family members of those who died due to someone else’s fault navigate the legal process and fight for justice and compensation. From my office in Seattle, Washington, I serve all of Western Washington, including Tacoma, the Puget Sound Area, Everett, and Bellevue.  

Wrongful Death Under Washington Law

Under Washington law, a person’s death meets the definition of “wrongful death” when the loss of life is the result of someone else’s neglect, wrongful act, or default. There are many different ways that a wrongful death can occur, but some of the most common causes include: 

  • motor vehicle accidents (car accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle accidents, etc.)  

  • medical malpractice 

  • slip and fall accidents 

  • product liability (defective products) 

  • nursing home negligence 

  • criminal acts 

If you believe that your loved one’s death was caused by one of these factors, consider contacting an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal case.  

Elements to Prove a Wrongful Death Claim

When pursuing a wrongful death claim against the person or entity that caused your loved one’s death, you must prove the following elements:  

1. Duty of Care

The first element that must be established in a wrongful death claim is the duty of care that was owed to your loved one. In general, this means that the other party had a legal obligation to take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to your loved one. For example, if your loved one was involved in an automobile accident with another driver, it would need to be established that the other driver had a duty to operate their vehicle in a responsible and safe manner and did not do so. 

2. Breach of Duty of Care

A breach of duty of care means that the other party failed to take reasonable care, and as a result, caused harm to your loved one. Continuing with the previous example, if it can be established that the other driver was intoxicated while driving and did not use reasonable care while driving which resulted in the death of your loved one, then you may have a claim for wrongful death because of their breach of duty of care. 

3. Causation

The third element in the wrongful death claim is to prove that the other party’s breach of duty of care directly caused the death of your loved one. This means that the other party’s actions were the cause of your loved one’s death, not something else.  

4. Damages Suffered

The last element in the wrongful death claim is to show the damages that resulted from the death of your loved one. These damages can include both economic and non-economic damages, including medical expenses, the loss of future income, and mental anguish, among others.  

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Washington?

While many states allow the decedent’s surviving family members to pursue wrongful death lawsuits, Washington is not one of them. In Washington, only the personal representative (also known as the executor) of the deceased person’s estate has the right to file a wrongful death claim. Thus, unless a surviving family member was named as the personal representative, they cannot pursue a wrongful death lawsuit on their own. Any damages awarded in the lawsuit will go toward compensating the decedent’s family.  

Statute of Limitations

In Washington, the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim is three years from the date of the person’s death. This means that you must file your claim within three years or you may lose your right to obtain compensation. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, such as when the plaintiff did not immediately discover that the decedent’s death was wrongful.  

Get Compassionate and Results-Driven Representation

At The Law Office of Dan N. Fiorito III, I want people whose lives were turned upside-down by the death of their loved ones to seek justice and get a sense of closure. I treat my clients with exceptional compassion and gentleness because I know how hard it is to lose a loved one. Reach out to my office to request a free consultation and talk about your case.