Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim?


Each state has slight variations on who can file a wrongful death claim, and who can collect funds from a wrongful death settlement. It's not always easy to figure out, hence, the differing laws. In Washington, there are three main parties with the right to file a claim on a decedent's behalf.

  • A spouse (or legal domestic partner)
  • A child of the decedent (including a stepchild)
  • A representative of the decedent's estate

These represent the most traditional avenues, but not everyone has a spouse or child. So what happens then? To know that, you must understand a little about the beneficiary tiers.

The First Tier of Beneficiaries

The three parties already mentioned represent only the first tier of Washington's two-tier beneficiary system. But even with the first tier, everything isn't as cut-and-dry for everybody involved.

The estate rep has a life of its own. Often, the spouse or child of the decedent can become the executor of that person's estate. Otherwise, the court will appoint someone. That executor will usually hire legal representation, and that's how you end up with a representative of the estate.

There's one point about estate executors that's important. Usually, the estate can only recover economic damages. Economic damages include things that have a dollar amount attached, such as medical bills, wages, and funeral expenses. The estate cannot recover non-economic damages. Only the spouse or child can in a direct claim or with a survival action.

The Second Tier of Beneficiaries

If there's no spouse or child, then someone from the second tier can make a claim on the decedent's behalf. The second tier includes parents and siblings. There's a caveat though.

Parents or siblings can only make a claim if they were financially depending on the decedent. Also, that financial dependency has to have been in effect at the time of death.

If there is no financial dependency, then neither parents nor siblings can make the claim. Additionally, if there are both first and second tier beneficiaries, then the first tier beneficiaries will always receive damages, no matter who initiates the claim.

Speak to a Wrongful Death Attorney

There's a lot more to wrongful death claims in Washington. The situation can become especially difficult if there are multiple people attempting to press a claim. Also, possible damages can vary depending precisely who is pressing the claim.

No matter what tier you're in, you should immediately speak to a wrongful death attorney about a claim. You need an experienced attorney that knows how best to navigate what can become a complex situation.


8 September 2015