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The limitations of Washington’s wrongful death laws


In many areas of the country, individuals who have lost a loved one in an accident due to another person’s negligence are eligible for wrongful death benefits, regardless of whether that individual supported a spouse, child or family member.

But Washington has limitations on who can receive wrongful death benefits. 

In Washington, the husband, wife, domestic partner, child or children, or stepchild or stepchildren of the deceased may seek wrongful death benefits. If the deceased does not have any of these relationships, the deceased’s parents or siblings who have depended on the deceased for support may seek wrongful death benefits.

But what if no one was financially dependent on the deceased?

A recent pedestrian death is shining light on some of the limitations of Washington’s wrongful death laws.

On December 13, Emily Locke, a 29-year-old woman from Lynnwood, was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street at a crosswalk. As a pedestrian, she was doing everything correctly. The crosswalk lights were on. But a driver failed to see her and stop, and she was fatally struck.

Adding to the misery of the family’s loss, they have learned that they are not eligible for potential wrongful death benefits, because Emily had no dependents. These benefits could have provided money to cover funeral expenses and other expenses the family faced as they tried to move on.

In her short life, Emily was an inspiration to many. She suffered from Coffin-Siris syndrome (CSS), a genetic disorder that typically affects intellectual development, facial features, and the small toes and fingers. She was active on social media, where she would post inspirational videos and messages.

As Emily’s family knows, there is more to the loss of a family member than monetary damages. Even though Emily did not financially support her family, her loss is something her family will have to deal with for life.

Washington’s current laws do not protect the family members of unmarried, childless adult children. Most states do. Cases like Emily’s highlight the importance of protecting all families as they deal with the death of a loved one in an accident.