Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

There are four types of wrongful death and survival actions in Washington. The wrongful death statutes generally allow family members to recover their own damages as a result of death caused by the wrongful act of another. RCW 4.20.010 and RCW 4.20.020. Washington’s general survival statute, RCW 4.20.046, provides that any cause of action a person had against another before death survives to their personal representative on their death. Washington’s special survival statute, RCW 4.20.060, specifically applies to personal injury actions where the person’s death is caused by their personal injury. Washington also recognizes a wrongful death action by a parent for the death of a child. RCW 4.24.010.

Beneficiaries Required to Maintain Wrongful Death and Survival Causes of Action

A wrongful death action can only be brought on behalf of and to recover damages to certain surviving family members or beneficiaries listed in the wrongful death statutes. These beneficiaries are broken down into two tiers. The first tier are the deceased’s spouse or registered domestic partner, and/or children (including stepchildren). The second tier of wrongful death beneficiaries are parents or siblings of the deceased. A wrongful death action may be maintained on behalf of this second tier of beneficiaries only if there are no first tier beneficiaries. RCW 4.20.020.

A general survival action is brought on behalf of and to recover economic damages to the deceased person’s estate. No statutory beneficiaries are required to maintain a general survival action to recover economic damages to the estate. But where there are statutory beneficiaries, in addition to the estate’s economic damages the personal representative may also recover noneconomic damages on behalf of those beneficiaries. RCW 4.20.046.

A special survival action for personal injury can be maintained only if the deceased leaves behind statutory beneficiaries. These are the same tiers of beneficiaries as required to maintain a wrongful death action. A special survival action is brought on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries. RCW 4.20.060.

Damages Recoverable in Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

Generally, survival statutes govern pre-death damages of deceased and wrongful death statutes govern post-death damages of deceased’s beneficiaries. Otani ex rel. Shigaki v. Broudy, 151 Wn.2d 750 (2004).

A recovery in a wrongful death action under RCW 4.20.010 is on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries and does not become part of the decedent’s estate. Wood v. Dunlop, 83 Wn.2d 719 (1974). Statutory beneficiaries may recover their own economic damages as a result of their relative’s death, including money, goods, and services they would have received from the deceased. They also may recover their own noneconomic damages as a result of the death, including loss of consortium with and the love, care, companionship, and guidance of the deceased.

The damages recoverable in a general survival action under RCW 4.20.046 where there are no statutory beneficiaries include compensation to the estate for health care and funeral expenses, and the net accumulations lost to the estate. Where there are statutory beneficiaries, the personal representative may additionally recover on their behalf noneconomic damages suffered by the deceased, including damages for the deceased’s pre-death pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, or humiliation.

A recovery under RCW 4.20.060, Washington’s special survival statute, is made on behalf of the statutory beneficiaries listed in this statute. Tait v. Wahl, 97 Wn.App. 765 (1999). The damages recoverable under this statute include recovery of the economic losses to the estate and noneconomic damages for the pain and suffering, anxiety, emotional distress, or humiliation suffered by the deceased suffered by the deceased.

In a wrongful death action brought by a parent on behalf of a child under RCW 4.24.010, the parent(s) may recover economic damages, including the cost of necessary medical care, funeral and burial expenses, and the net economic value of services and support the child would have been expected to contribute to the parent(s) up until the child would have turned 18. The parent(s) may also recover noneconomic damages for the loss of love and destruction of the parent-child relationship, including the mental anguish of the parent, and loss of the companionship of the child.