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Wrongful Death of a Child

There is nothing more tragic than the death of a child. Emerald Law Group attorneys have vast experience representing parents whose children were the victims of wrongful death. We feel the human interaction with these grieving parents is more important than our legal work on their behalf. We often serve as a shoulder to cry on as these anguished parents recount the circumstances of the wrongful death of their child. Unfortunately, in Washington, the statute governing pursuing lawsuits to recover for the anguish caused by the wrongful death of a child is very specific and fraught with details that must be followed. That is where we put our lawyer hats back on.

Claims for the wrongful death of a child in Washington are controlled by RCW 4.24.010.

However, there are many subsequent requirements with which parents and their attorneys must comply. Initially, we must assist the parents in setting up the child’s estate. Next comes the actual claim and, sometimes, lawsuit. There are two primary aspects for which the estate and parents of a child may recover in an action for the wrongful death of a child. Later in the wrongful death of a child statute, the Legislature defines the permissible recovery in a lawsuit to include medical bills, loss of support, loss of love and companionship and the destruction of the parent-child relationship.

In other words, the estate can recover for the medical bills and pain and suffering actually incurred by the child prior to death. We work with economists, doctors, psychologists and other experts to determine this amount. In addition to that, the parents can recover for the loss of love and companionship with their child. This is the most heartbreaking part of these lawsuits. We help the parents work with sympathetic experts to quantify and describe the indescribable loss.

Despite the fairly straightforward language of the statute, there are many potential pitfalls. For instance, if the parents are divorced, separated or unmarried, a court will award damages separately between the parents. This means a jury will have to determine the amount of love and affection each parent has lost. This is a potential minefield and there are ways we can assist the parents in working through this process.

Often with divorced or unmarried parents, the custodial parent will bring a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased child. The statute is very clear that “notice of the institution of the suit, together with a copy of the complaint, shall be served upon the other parent. This is a provision that must be strictly followed.

Finally, and to the shame of the Washington Legislature and courts, Washington courts have firmly ruled that in order for a parent to bring a lawsuit for the wrongful death of a child, that parent must have had some contact or provided some regular financial support to the child. In most cases, this a moot point. But from time-to-time this becomes a huge question that impacts whether the estate of the child can recover for the pain and suffering the child suffered prior to death. It is unconscionable that Washington courts have at times barred the recovery by the child’s estate because a living parent could not be located. The law in Washington absolutely needs to change regarding recovering for the wrongful death of a child. In the meantime, we will work tirelessly to avoid the minefields and make recovery as quick and uncomplicated as possible.

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