Slip-and-Fall Accidents
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How to Sue for Wrongful Death from a Slip and Fall

You may know that slip-and-fall accidents could lead to serious injuries, but did you know they can also lead to death? In fact, slip-and-fall injuries are the leading cause of death by injury among older Americans, with over 15,000 people dying per year. The very young are also particularly vulnerable to slip-and-fall accidents, as well as people who work in places like construction sites.

Slip-and-fall accidents can occur anywhere — on sidewalks and streets, in parking lots, stores, restaurants, stadiums, amusement parks, nursing homes, offices, construction sites, or private residences. Some accidents can be avoided, and the owner of a property has a legal obligation to keep places safe for visitors and workers. If a property owner neglects that legal duty and this carelessness leads to the tragic loss of life, the family of the person who died is entitled to seek monetary damages for their loss.

Of course, no amount of money can bring back someone who dies in a slip-and-fall accident. However, a tragic death brings more than grief. In addition to the unimaginable emotional hardship that death brings, there are often financial considerations involved. Those include medical bills and the loss of that person’s financial support of family members such as children.

This article explains how loved ones can seek compensation for their losses in Washington State. We will review how accidents occur, who can sue, how an attorney proves damages, and the statute of limitations for filing a claim.

Who is responsible for a slip-and-fall accident?

There are many different circumstances that could lead to a slip and fall that results in death, and every case is different. Some common examples of conditions that could lead to accidents include:

  • Slippery floors from mopping or rain
  • Slippery surface materials such as glass or marble
  • Clutter and hazards in narrow walkways or aisles
  • Unsafe stairways, such as uneven treads or broken handrails
  • Uneven or unstable surfaces, including potholes, bunched rugs, or loose tiles and bricks
  • Missing or poor lighting
  • Unsafe scaffolding or ladders

If a property owner’s irresponsibility led to unsafe conditions that resulted in a person’s untimely death, they could be considered negligent under Washington State law. If that is the case, a court may order the owner to pay damages to the person’s estate and beneficiaries.

Who can sue for wrongful death in slip-and-fall accidents?

When someone dies, they leave behind many loose ends. They leave behind possessions, including their cash assets, retirement accounts and benefits, real estate, and property such as collectibles and vehicles. They also leave behind debt, including credit card debt, mortgages, and student debt. All these financial elements combine to become a legal entity known as an estate, which represents the deceased person’s remaining financial interests and responsibilities.

Someone needs to take charge of the deceased person’s estate to handle funeral costs, pay off debt, and sell or give away any assets. This person is called the estate’s executor and will execute a will if there is one. The estate’s representative, or executor, will file any lawsuits on behalf of the estate, including a wrongful death lawsuit seeking damages on behalf of the deceased person’s beneficiaries.

In addition to the estate, in Washington, real parties of interest can also seek damages by joining a wrongful death lawsuit. Real parties of interest can include the deceased person’s spouse, children, or stepchildren. If there are no children or spouse, the parents or siblings can be included as real parties of interest.

If the deceased person is a child under 18, the parents who financially supported the child can file a claim. In the case of a child with parents who were divorced, separated, or never married, the parent who files the claim has 20 days in Washington State to notify the other parent to give him or her the option of joining the lawsuit.

What are the elements needed to prove a wrongful death claim in Washington State?

If someone slips and falls and the injury leads to wrongful death, this accident falls under the category of premises injury under Washington State law. This law states that property owners must make sure their property is safe for others.

Under premises injury law, the attorney filing a lawsuit will have to prove four elements to a jury to demonstrate that the owner should pay damages for a wrongful death.

  1. Duty to exercise care. First, the business or property owner must have been responsible for providing a safe environment, or give adequate warning of hazards such as a wet floor to prevent an accident or slip.
  2. Negligence, or breach of the duty to exercise care. Next, the attorney of the people filing the wrongful death claim will need to demonstrate that the property owner failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent a fall, such as by failing to keep a stairway clear, maintain a walkway in good condition, or put up a sign cautioning about slippery floors.
  3. Causation. The attorney will need to show a clear causal link between the negligence and the death. In other words, the attorney will need to show a jury that the property owner’s carelessness led to the accident that caused the wrongful death.
  4. Actual damages. Finally, the attorney will need to show the extent of the financial and emotional loss that resulted from the death.

How is compensation determined in a wrongful death lawsuit?

Suddenly losing a loved one in a tragic accident brings a huge financial and emotional toll, especially if that person was financially responsible for others, such as children, elderly parents, or someone with a disability. The person’s estate will be acting in the interest of these beneficiaries when filing a lawsuit seeking damages for wrongful death.

Under Washington law, a jury is asked to consider several factors when determining damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Those include:

  • medical bills
  • funeral costs
  • lost wages
  • pain and suffering
  • loss of companionship or parenting

In Washington State, a jury will decide on the damages in a wrongful death case by considering the deceased person’s age, the types of relationships they had, their earning capacity, health, life expectancy, and the impact of the death on their estate’s beneficiaries. The attorney representing the estate and the parties in interest will be responsible for showing the jury how beneficiaries and loved ones will suffer financially and emotionally from the loss created by the property owner’s negligence.

What is the statute of limitations to sue for wrongful death from a slip and fall in Washington State?

Washington State law gives three years to file a wrongful death lawsuit from a slip-and-fall injury that leads to wrongful death. However, the sooner an estate representative or party of interest contacts an attorney, the better. A lawsuit will involve a careful investigation into the incident that led to the wrongful death, which should be started right away for the best chances of bringing financial compensation to those who have suffered the loss.

If someone you know has died as a result of a slip and fall, contact an experienced lawyer by completing our intake form or calling us at (253) 948-3199 or (206) 536-2850. All conversations are confidential.