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A wrongful death lawsuit is usually filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim, on behalf of surviving family members. Who those survivors can be varies from state to state.

In all states, a spouse may bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of his or her deceased spouse. When a child under the age of 18 dies, parents may file a wrongful death lawsuit. Likewise, minors can seek compensation for the death of their parents. However, states aren’t consistent when the deceased is a young adult just starting out on his/her own, unmarried with no children, little to no earnings history, and survived only by his/her parents. Under some state laws, parents have absolutely no recourse.

On July 7, 2014, a 19-year-old was killed after getting caught it the auger of a bark-blower truck. It was his second day of work.

According to reports, unaware the young man was in the back of the truck, two other workers used a remote control to turn on the feeder and blower mechanism. When the system stopped working, the two men called to their co-worker, but he did not respond. He was found tangled in the auger and rotating bars of the feeder mechanism. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The landscaping company for whom the man worked was found guilty of 16 violations — 14 categorized as “serious” and two as “willful,” the most serious level of violation. The company was fined $100,000.

Although the company paid a fine, the young man’s parents could not file a wrongful death lawsuit due to a Washington law. If, however the man had been seriously injured, he could have filed a claim, including seeking compensation for his physical and emotional pain and suffering. In other words, if he was injured, he might collect money damages in a civil lawsuit, but since he died, his grieving family gets nothing. You read that correctly, it is cheaper for the defendant to kill someone rather than injure him. Does this make sense to you? Me either.

So what is the rationale behind these laws? Large corporate interests and insurance companies would suggest that there is no “loss” to the survivors if the victim is an adult and those survivors were not supported, economically, by the deceased. Tell that to grieving parents and siblings. Such measures are handouts to insurance companies and corporate wrongdoers at the expense of the death victims’ family. Millions are paid to lobbyists by corporate interests to curry industry favorable legislation. These measures prevent victims from having their cases heard by a jury, as guaranteed by the 7th Amendment of our Constitution. Still don’t get it? Let’s presume that your adult child was killed by someone else’s negligence. Would you want the wrongdoer held accountable? Shouldn’t the insurance company pay on the policy that it received premium payments for? Lawsuits can’t bring back your child, but the threat of liability and compensation could prevent the same thing from happening to another child. The threat of a lawsuit is one of our most important safety tools.

There is an effort to eliminate this absurd corporate protection. However, government representatives and a medical industry spokesperson said such a change ‘would open the door to much higher legal costs.’

“We know there will be more lawsuits and again when there are more lawsuits there’s concerns about liability and exposure for providers,” said Lisa Thatcher of the Washington State Hospital Association. Of course there would be more lawsuits; under current law, the number of wrongful death lawsuits in this type of situation is zero. The question shouldn’t be whether there will be more lawsuits; the question should be whether there will be more fairness, more justice.

These anti-justice measures almost always begin with some lobbyist demonizing trial lawyers and demanding curbs on “frivolous lawsuits”. They claim that corporations need protection from litigation. Since when is corporate negligence that kills a “frivolous” matter?

Trial lawyers do not kill and injure people; they protect and serve victims of negligence. Shouldn’t companies put millions in safety rather than in anti-victim lobbying efforts? That would reduce lawsuits, no?

Corporations and insurance companies love this law. People can be killed by negligent corporations without a dime being paid in compensation. They get a complete free pass while the victim’s family suffers. Insurance companies collect premiums without having to pay out benefits. Death related expenses are paid by the family or other insurance interests. How can this be? Again, if this was your child, who should pay? You? The taxpayers? Or should it be the insurance company who collected premiums?

In this case, the company paid nothing; the family lost a son. To deny accountability when someone is killed is a travesty of justice. Do parents suffer less when the child they lost is an adult? Has their child’s life become worthless to them? Of course not! Are there parents in the Washington legislature? Do they realize what is being sacrificed on the alter of corporate greed? Every parent should be outraged by this law.

No amount of money can compensate this couple for the loss of their son. Full and fair compensation for unsafe conduct must, absolutely, be part of a pro-safety, pro-citizen model. It makes no sense to immunize wrongdoers from the damage they cause due to negligence. In doing so, the only winners are insurance companies and large corporate interests. The parents have begun their own lobbying efforts to the Washington state legislature. Seattle Democrat Sharon Tomiko Santos has heard their plea. She has introduced legislation that would permit parents of adult children to collect damages for their wrongful death. The House Judiciary Committee said that it will consider the legislation. It you are a Washington resident, contact your state legislators and demand that they right this terrible wrong.  All states should recognize the value of human life and the anguish and grief suffered by loved ones, regardless of the victim’s age. Every legislator must recognize that the value of a parent-child relationship is sacrosanct and goes far beyond the obligation of financial support. It is too late for this family; will it be too late for yours?


Mark M. Bello is an attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series. He is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation, a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.

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