Washington State’s legislature has passed Substitute Senate Bill 5163, significantly amending the Wrongful Death Act, RCW 4.20 et seq. The bill will go into effect on July 28, 2019, and will have retroactive effect. It will apply to all claims that are not time barred, and also states that joint and several liability apply to these claims.

The wrongful death cause of action did not exist at common law, but was created by statute. Washington’s wrongful death statute placed certain limitations on which beneficiaries it would apply to.  SSB 5163 removes or clarifies some of those limitations.

The dependence and residency requirements for a decedent’s second tier beneficiaries, parents and siblings, are removed if there is no spouse, state registered domestic partner, or child, without parents or siblings having to show dependence on the deceased.  The removal of the residency requirements of parents and siblings is in response to the Ride the Ducks litigation.  Recoverable noneconomic damages of the decedent are limited to the decedent’s pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, or humiliation as determined by the trier of fact.

The amendments also remove the requirement that the decedent’s parent or legal guardian must have regularly contributed to the support of a minor child or have been dependent for support on an adult child.  A parent or legal guardian may now bring an action if they have had “significant involvement” in the child’s life, including either giving or receiving emotional, psychological, or financial support to or from the child.  “Significant involvement” means demonstrated support of an emotional, psychological, or financial nature within the parent-child relationship at or reasonably near the time of death, or at or reasonably near the time of the incident causing the death.  In addition to recovering damages for the child’s economic losses (e.g., health care expenses, loss of the child’s services, loss of the child’s financial support), damages may be also recovered for the loss of love and companionship of the child, loss of the child’s emotional support, and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship as determined by a trier of fact.  An action may be maintained by the decedent’s parent or legal guardian regardless of whether or not the child has attained the age of majority, but only if the child has no spouse, state registered domestic partner, or children.  Each parent is entitled to recover for their own loss separately form the other parent regardless of marital status.

The attorneys of Preg, O’Donnell & Gillett have represented numerous clients on wrongful death and survival actions in Washington, Oregon and Alaska. If you have any questions concerning the potential impact of these changes on Washington claims, please feel free to contact our office.