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Significant Changes to Washington State’s Wrongful Death Law

Parents and siblings now have a right to bring a wrongful death action for adult children when that child is unmarried and has no children, regardless of financial dependency

On April 26, 2019, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law sweeping changes to Washington’s wrongful death and survival statutes.  Since 1909, Washington State has recognized the right of certain family members to recover from the death of a spouse or child who died as a result of another’s negligent or intentional act.  However, those statutes limited the rights of the parents or siblings of an adult who died to assert a claim for wrongful death unless the parents or siblings could prove they were financially dependent upon their loved one.  This 110-year requirement of proof of financial dependence led to numerous cases of injustice.  As an example, if an 18-year-old young man or woman was driving home from their high school graduation, assuming he or she was unmarried and had no children, and is killed by the negligent acts of another, the parents of this recent high school graduate would have no recourse for justice.  Additionally, if the recent high school graduate was a foreign exchange student, his or her parents would also not be able to bring a wrongful death action as the old law required residency in the United States at the time of their adult child’s death.  The new amendments now provide a legal remedy for the parents and siblings of the decedent.

Specifically, the new law, which takes effect in July of 2019, provides the following changes:

  • Parents and siblings now have a right to bring a wrongful death action for adult children when that child is unmarried and has no children, regardless of financial dependency;
  • There is no longer a requirement that in order to bring a wrongful death action, a parent or sibling must reside in the United States at the time of the person’s death;
  • The available general, or non-economic, damages now include the decedent’s pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, and/or humiliation.

These changes to the wrongful death and survival action statutes will apply retroactively to all claims that are not barred by the applicable statute of limitations, including any claims currently pending in a court when the new law becomes effective.

By: Patrick Harwood