A wrongful death is one caused by criminal or unlawful actions. If the actions did not happen, the death would not have occurred. However, wrongful death is also a byproduct of inaction and negligence. Under Washington’s Wrongful Death Act, a personal representative has a right to maintain an action when they lose a loved one if the death is “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person.”
Wrongful deaths caused by the wrongful actions of another party are usually criminal in nature. The person who caused the death purposely intended to hurt the victim. They may have wanted to steal from the victim, and they shot them in the process. The criminal and intentional actions caused the death.
Although the personal representative may want to pursue a criminal lawsuit for the fatality, they can also hold the perpetrator accountable through a wrongful death lawsuit. The latter is a civil action where the standard of proof is lower when compared to a criminal suit.
Negligence is when a person fails to exercise reasonable care while fulfilling their obligations to another individual. Here are the elements that are necessary to prove negligence caused the wrongful death:
- The person who caused the death owed a duty to the victim
- The person who owed a duty to the victim breached that duty
- The breach of duty resulted in the death of the victim
- The victim’s personal representative suffered damages because of their death
Negligence is usually the reason most car accidents happen. A driver who drives recklessly or violates traffic laws breaches their duty to other road users. When they cause an accident due to their negligence and it results in death, the victim’s loved ones have the legal right to hold the driver accountable for the damages. The legal theory of negligence encourages all people to be more careful.
Default is the failure to fulfill an obligation. For example, a manufacturing company deliberately fails to test its products before selling them to consumers so they can save money. The defective product may cause a wrongful death. Default is intentional negligence.
The Wrongful Death Act exists to allow surviving loved ones to find some solace amid their pain and suffering.