Who can bring a Wrongful Death claim in Washington?
In many ways, the state of Washington is not unlike most states in terms of claims for wrongful death. Wrongful death is a type of claim that is meant to fill in the loophole created historically at common law. The loophole, in basic terms, arises from the idea that if a person is injured, he or she was the only proper person that was allowed to go to court and seek relief for the injuries.
Conversely, if a person’s injury was their own death, he or she could not obtain relief because he or she was of course dead, and the courts at common law did not allow another person to seek relief on his or her behalf. To address this discrepancy, wrongful death claims were created. In most instances, a close relative is given standing to bring this sort of claim.
There are some nuances to procedures that state legislatures require for close relatives to bring these claims, and one of special note in Washington is which people are qualified to bring the claim (clearly the legislature wants to draw the line somewhere before casual friends and distant cousins). In Washington, if the person who died is survived by a child or a spouse, any and all of these people automatically have standing to bring the wrongful death claim. Interestingly, if the dead person has no children or a spouse, then a parent may bring the case, but only if the person was a minor when they died, or if the parent was substantially dependant, financially speaking, on the deceased adult child.
Reasonable minds may disagree about the prudence or fairness of the way in which Washington treats this issue, and this is a great example of an issue which is treated differently by different states. For example, it appears that Arizona and Hawaii courts may allow these claims without the showing of financial dependence. In any case, it is slightly disheartening to think that if an adult dies single and without children, there may be no one that can validly bring a claim in court to make the party that caused their death pay relief.