A fair fix to Washington State wrongful death law

By a vote of 61-37, the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill for a new wrongful death law.

The bill, SB 5163, will erase the current provision in Washington state law that barred most parents from bringing claims for the wrongful death of an adult child.

SB 5163, passed by the state Senate in March, will officially become the law when Governor Inslee signs it.

What is “wrongful death”? 

“Wrongful death” is the legal term for an unnatural death,

resulting from an injury or incident,

caused by the bad conduct of another person or a company.

The bill also removes the requirement that parents or family members must live in the U.S. to be eligible to make a wrongful death claim.

Under the old law, parents could not bring claims for the death of their daughter or son once they turned 18 years old, unless they could establish financial dependency on their child.

For example: a 16-year-old boy and his 19-year-old sister are killed in a collision with a semi-truck on I-5.

Under the old law, the parents could only bring a claim for the damages suffered by their loss of the 16-year-old.

If they came to me for a consultation, I would have to explain that state law limits wrongful death claims for adult children. No parent has ever been satisfied by my explanation that “it’s the law in Washington.”

Under the new law, the parents would be able to bring a claim for damages for the loss of both their 16-year-old and 19-year-old.

The old wrongful death law, written in 1909 to block lawsuits for the death of Chinese workers, was blatantly and purposefully unjust. As one representative stated, the old law was “wholly unfair if a child is wrongfully killed and there is no recourse for their death.”

KingCountyCourthouse_1910 wrongful death law

Building the King County courthouse in 1910 – shortly after the old wrongful death law was passed in Washington State. Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives.

Over the course of my 33 years representing families who have lost loved ones, it has become clear to me that the death of a child is the hardest thing that any parent will ever go through.

No judge, no jury, no lawyer can bring back someone you love. Our justice system in the U.S. recognizes that we cannot undo the tragedy.

The only thing we can do is to provide the remaining family with monetary compensation and a measure of justice through a wrongful death claim.

I admire all of the parents who helped change the law by sharing their personal tragedies with Washington State lawmakers.

They will never benefit from the new wrongful death law, but they have paved the route to justice for other grieving parents.

 

– Attorney Kevin Coluccio

 

 

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