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Can Divorced Parents Pursue Wrongful Death Claims?

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2020 | Wrongful Death

By Pendergast Law on November 18, 2020

Losing a child is one of the most devastating things a parent can go through. The pain, sorrow, and anger you are feeling are unmatched by any other experience and it can be difficult to move on from. If your child died due to an act of negligence, such as in an auto accident, then you are well within your rights to hold the at-fault party accountable in a wrongful death claim. While a claim will not bring back your child, it can allow you to recover some financial compensation from the person who took your child’s life. However, it is important to understand how a divorce can directly impact your ability to file a claim.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

In the state of Washington, you can file a wrongful death claim if you lost a loved one due to an act of negligence, according to RCW 4.20.010. This statute allows a victim’s family to recover both economic and non-economic damages in accordance with an insurance company that represents that at-fault party, oftentimes an auto liability policy, homeowner’s policy, or commercial liability policy for a business. Essentially, a wrongful death claim follows the same procedures as a personal injury claim and is designed to recover compensation as a result of a fatal injury.

However, a wrongful death claim is more limited in who can file a claim. First, a personal representative must be assigned to handle the claim on behalf of the deceased. This representative acts as the plaintiff in the case and will represent the needs of the deceased family. A representative can be a member of the family, a friend of the deceased, a representative of the deceased’s estate, or another trusted individual.

In addition to assigning a personal representative, only a handful of individuals can benefit from a claim. The right to pursue a claim is determined by the individual’s relationship with the deceased, which can include the deceased’s:

  • Spouse
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

If you lost a minor child due to an act of negligence, then you can file a claim for compensation. In addition, if your adult child died due to an act of negligence and they did not have a spouse or children, then you can also file a claim as their parent so long as you have had a “significant involvement” in your child’s life before the time of their death. That being said, the law does have specific rules for divorced parents and how a claim should proceed.

Procedures for Divorced Parents

Under Washington state’s wrongful death laws, both parents have a right to compensation in the event of the wrongful death of a child, whether or not they are divorced. Thus, if you and your spouse are divorced, you have a legal duty to include them in the claim. When you decide to file a claim, you have up to 20 days after submitting a claim to notify your ex-spouse. At this point, they can choose whether or not they wish to join the claim.

However, the state of Washington acknowledges that both parents have a right to file a claim separately, no matter their marital status. This means each parent is entitled to file a claim separately.

In addition, both parents must meet a deadline, or statute of limitations; otherwise, they can be barred from receiving compensation. In the state of Washington, you have up until three years from the date of your child’s death to file a claim. While that may seem like a long time, you will want to get started early to preserve evidence, review insurance policies, and ensure that your case receives all the care and attention it needs.

It is important to understand all of your rights during a wrongful death claim. These court proceedings and legal requirements can be complicated and difficult to wrap your head around while you are grieving. Your best option is to talk about your case with an experienced and compassionate Seattle personal injury attorney. For over four decades, we have represented heartbroken families in significant wrongful death claims and can provide sound legal advice throughout the entire process. We are dedicated to protecting our clients’ right to file a claim and can walk you through the entire process in a free consultation. To get started on your claim, contact our office.