The sudden and untimely death of a loved one can cause immeasurable grief. As discussed in the ABOUT MIKE FISHER section, Mike has personally experienced the death of his mother as a result of medical malpractice. Mike is particularly attentive to the emotional needs of individuals and families who’ve suffered such a loss. He is also aware of the financial hardship families experience when a provider passes. While this is a wrong we can never make completely right, we make every effort to obtain maximum compensation and hold accountable those responsible. Attorney Mike Fisher, and his law firm Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, L.L.P. fight to make these overwhelming circumstances that much easier to manage so families can heal.
Not everyone affected by the loss of a loved one is eligible to file a wrongful death claim. Washington law limits beneficiaries to:
Surviving registered domestic partner
Child or children, including stepchildren
If no individuals fit that description, an action may go forward benefiting relatives who were financially dependent on the deceased and who were residents of the United States at the time of death, including:
The law allows a jury to award damages that, considering all circumstances of the case, seem just. Besides economic damages, these include noneconomic damages, such as:
Loss of consortium
Loss of love
Loss of companionship
Loss of society
Loss of care and protection
In cases of gross negligence, a court may also award punitive damages. Your wrongful death attorney is tasked with helping the jury understand the depth of your loss. Finally, there may be an opportunity for a personal representative of the deceased to pursue a survival lawsuit.
Family members who suddenly lose a loved one to an accident naturally feel violated; someone precious to them has been stolen, and the years of happiness they anticipated have been obliterated. We understand your desire to hold negligent or reckless individuals accountable for the harm they’ve caused for wrongful death resulting from:
Product defect accidents
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control on injury deaths, the leading specified causes of unintentional injury death are:
Motor vehicle traffic accidents — Approximately 30,000 motorists, passengers and pedestrians die in collisions annually.
Unintentional poisoning — This category includes drug overdoses and is the leading accidental killer for ages 25 through 64. Drug poisonings increased six-fold from 1980 to 2008. Drug poisonings involving opioid analgesics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, tripled from 1999 to 2008.
Falls — Falls are the leading cause of accidental death for persons over the age of 65.
Suffocation — This is the number one cause of accidental death for infants.
Drowning — This is the leading cause of accidental death for children ages 1 through 4.
However, the American Association for Justice makes a strong argument for including preventable medical errors on this list. A 1999 report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 preventable deaths occur each year due to medical errors. That places deaths caused by medical error at the top of the CDC’s list of injury deaths and makes medical malpractice the sixth leading cause of death in the country.
The good news for anyone who travels on Washington roads is that the number of deaths from vehicle accidents has declined each of the last years for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released statistics. Starting from a high of 521 fatalities in 2008, these deaths reached a low of 444 in 2012. However, both motorcycle accident deaths and pedestrian fatalities have increased during the same period.
Once a person sustains an injury caused by another person or persons, the law recognizes that “a cause of action” has been created. That cause of action, the legal right to seek redress in a court of law, has a life of its own. In fact, it’s possible for a cause of action to outlive the plaintiff and/or the defendant. If your loved one had grounds for a personal injury lawsuit and subsequently passed away — from the original injuries or from an unrelated cause — that right to sue becomes an asset of your loved one’s estate. The estate representative can decide whether to proceed with a lawsuit, settle or let the claim lapse. We understand the difficult decisions families face in the aftermath of a loved one’s death. Our client-centered practice puts you at the forefront of all decisions regarding your litigation and we help representatives of deceased plaintiffs make the appropriate decision for their families regarding survival lawsuits.
A survival of action is different from a wrongful death lawsuit. While wrongful death attempts to compensate family members for the loss of a loved one, a survival action is the continuation of a personal injury lawsuit that the injured party had filed prior to death. The survival action seeks compensation for noneconomic losses personal to the deceased, including:
Pain and suffering
The eligible beneficiaries are the same as those in a wrongful death claim. It is also worth noting that the injured plaintiff need not have died as a result of the injury event cited in the original lawsuit. Therefore, if a plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit after sustaining a broken hip in a premises liability accident and later dies from an unrelated heart attack, the right to prosecute passes to the person’s estate.
Survival actions are governed by the statute of limitations. The estate representative must file the survival action within the statute of limitations for the deceased person’s injury. For most personal injury cases, the time limit to bring a lawsuit is three years, although a court sometimes allows extensions in cases where the plaintiff did not know until later that an injury had occurred or was incapacitated and unable to file.
Your right to sue a negligent party for compensation is only good for a limited time, and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Since 1959, Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, L.L.P. has helped injured parties fight for the compensation they deserve. We have the experience to help safeguard your right to sue for damages so your claim is not barred by the statute of limitations or any other regulation governing Washington state court procedure.
The Revised Code of Washington does not specifically address wrongful death actions, but it addresses such cases in Section 4.16.080, which covers actions at law that are limited to three years. Section 4.16.080(2) reads:
“An action for taking, detaining, or injuring personal property, including an action for the specific recovery thereof, or for any other injury to the person or rights of another not hereinafter enumerated;” (emphasis added)
Wrongful death is an injury to the person who suffers the loss of a loved one. Public policy justifies the imposition of a statute of limitations. It may seem harsh for a law to permanently bar an injured party from seeking compensation for losses, but the statute of limitations is necessary for several reasons:
It promotes a swift adjudication of legal claims — When plaintiffs understand they have a limited time to initiate legal action, the process begins in a timely fashion.
It promotes accuracy in the adjudication of claims — As time passes, the evidence necessary to get at the truth of a legal matter erodes. Memories fade, witnesses become unavailable and evidence is destroyed. Timely actions are more likely to produce accurate results.
It protects the due process rights of defendants — If there were no statute of limitations, the plaintiff would be in complete control of an action and could wait to bring suit until conditions favored the plaintiff, such as after the death of a key defense witness.
Special considerations for Jones Act seamen and others killed at sea
Certain survivors of persons killed at sea may recover damages from those who caused the death. Those who may be eligible to sue include surviving spouses, children, parents, and next of kin and/or dependent relatives. There are competing laws, the application of which depends on who was killed, where they were killed, how they were killed and who killed them. Eligible survivors of those killed at sea may have differing rights to recover damages under the Death on the High Seas Act, general maritime law, the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, or the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, depending on which laws apply and in what combinations they apply.