Wrongful Death Laws in Washington State

Washington state supreme court

When a life ends because of negligence or medical malpractice, the legal rights of the surviving husband, wife, parent, or other family members are commonly referred to as a “wrongful death” lawsuit.

Unfortunately, the wrongful death laws in Washington State do not treat everyone fairly.  A single adult that is not married is not as valued as a married adult under the eyes of the law.  That injustice has been considered by our state legislature on several occasions, but the politicians have never fixed the problem with the laws.  Lawyers at our firm have meet with politicians in Olympia to remedy this problem and will continue to lobby until the law is changed so it is fair to everyone.

Washington State’s  statutory scheme to compensate for tortious (negligent) death complex, with two wrongful death statutes (RCW 4.20.010, .020) and two survival statutes (RCW 4.20.046, .060). A third survival statute exists for “child injury or death”, applying to a parent’s action for the death of a child (RCW 4.24.010).

Washington’s wrongful death statutes, RCW 4.20.010 and 4.20.020, create causes of action for specific surviving beneficiaries of the deceased. Wrongful death causes of action begin at the death of the decedent for the benefit of the persons named in the statute. Wrongful death statutes govern post-death damages of the deceased. Otani v. Broudy, 151 Wn.2d 750, 755, 92 P.3d 192 (2004).

Unlike the wrongful death statutes, Washington’s survival statutes do not create new causes of action for statutorily named beneficiaries, but instead preserve causes of action that the decedent could have brought had he or she survived. The survival statutes preserve causes of action for injuries suffered prior to death. The purpose of awarding damages under the survival statutes, RCW 4.20.046 and RCW 4.20.060, is to remedy the common law anomaly which allowed tort victims to sue if they survived, but barred their claims if they died. Otani, 151 Wn.2d at 755, 92 P.3d 192.

It is important to have experienced attorneys analyze the potential case to determine which statutes may apply.  The following chart lists each of the different statutes.

Wrongful death:
RCW 4.20.010 and 4.20.020
Beneficiaries: Creates causes of action for specific surviving beneficiaries of the deceased. For the benefit of the persons named in the statute.Damages: Wrongful death statutes govern post-death damages of the deceased. Otani v. Broudy, 151 Wn.2d 750, 755, 92 P.3d 192 (2004). Elements of damages include loss of love, affection, care, service, companionship, society, training and consortium that decedent would have provided to the beneficiaries. Pecuniary loss includes not only the monetary contributions the decedent would have made to the beneficiaries, but also intangible losses.
General survival:
RCW 4.20.046
Beneficiaries: Recovery under the general survival statute is for the benefit of, and passes through the decedent’s estate.Damages: Recoverable damages in a survival action include medical and hospital expenses, funeral expenses, property damage, and pain, suffering, and fear experienced by the decedent before death (“those damages recoverable in a garden variety tort action”).
Special survival: RCW 4.20.060Beneficiaries: Recovery under the special survival statute is for the benefit of, and is distributed directly to, the statutory beneficiaries.Damages: The special survival statute is limited to personal injury causes of action that result in death. Damages include medical and hospital expenses, funeral expenses, property damage, and pain, suffering, and fear experienced by the decedent before death (“those damages recoverable in a garden variety tort action”).
Injury or Death of Child:
RCW 4.24.010
Beneficiaries: ParentsDamages: Include damages for medical, hospital, medication expenses, and loss of services and support, damages may be recovered for the loss of love and companionship of the child and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship