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When Do You Need a Lawyer to Help Pay for Neck Injuries?

Six of the 70 Clovis Unified District students riding on a bus that recently crashed were transported to the hospital after the crash, with some complaining of neck pain.

Neck injuries are often among the most dangerous and debilitating injuries one can experience. They can result in the need for long-term care and medical assistance. If you’ve suffered a neck injury in an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, an experienced spinal cord injury attorney can help you recover the compensation you need to face the future.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Neck Injuries?

Many things can cause neck injuries, including:

  • Car accidents: Rear-end collisions are a common cause of whiplash. However, any type of motor vehicle accident may result in neck injuries such as herniated discs, broken bones, or even spinal cord injuries in the neck.
  • Motorcycle accidents: The lack of protective features found in other types of motor vehicles and the high likelihood of rider ejection, leading the victim to collide with objects or the ground, make neck injuries a frequent result of this type of accident.
  • Slip and fall accidents: Falling is among the leading causes of neck injuries.
  • Swimming pool accidents: In some pool-related accidents, the victim hits their head on the pool, causing their neck to break or suffer otherwise severe injury.
  • Construction site accidents: Accidents involving a fall or an individual being struck by a falling object frequently lead to neck injuries.

Types of Neck Injuries

The following is a list of the most common accident-related neck injuries.

Whiplash

As explained by Mayo Clinic, the condition known as whiplash involves the soft tissues that surround the spinal column and occurs when the neck makes a forceful back-and-forth motion like a whip. While this type of injury is most commonly caused by rear-end car accidents, it may also be caused by sports injuries, physical abuse, or other types of trauma. The symptoms of whiplash generally appear within 24 hours of the injury and may include:

  • Stiffness or pain in the neck that worsens with movement;
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck;
  • A headache that typically begins at the base of the skull;
  • Tenderness, pain, or numbness in the shoulders, upper back, or arms;
  • Fatigue or dizziness;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Ringing in the ears;
  • Depression;
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering;
  • Irritability; and
  • Sleep problems.

While many people get over the symptoms of whiplash within a few weeks, some people have chronic pain that lingers for months or years. Some of the conditions that most often cause long-term complications from whiplash include a prior neck injury or pre-existing neck or back pain, or age. Chronic pain as the result of whiplash is more prevalent in those who experience intense early symptoms such as severe neck pain spreading to the arms, as well as headaches.

Disc Injuries

The spine extends from the base of the skull to the buttocks and contains a series of connected bones known as vertebrae. These vertebrae are connected by a disc and two small facet joints. Spinal discs consist of a tough, fibrous outer layer surrounding a jelly-like interior. Injuries can result in the outer layer of the disc weakening, causing the disc to bulge, or can even result in a rupturing of the disc—known as a herniated disc—that causes the soft inner filling of the disc to ooze out. The herniated disc then creates pressure on the nerves, resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms and occasionally the legs, as well.

Symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck include:

  • Pain or numbness, generally appearing on one side of the body;
  • Pain that extends down the arms;
  • Pain that worsens at night or with certain movements such as sitting, standing, or walking short distances;
  • Unexplained muscle weakness; and
  • A tingling or burning sensation in the affected area.

While a herniated disc may show improvement with rest, exercises specifically designed to treat the condition, and time, this condition sometimes requires surgery to repair the affected disc. In severe cases, the disc must be removed and either replaced by an artificial one or repaired by fusing the vertebrae. If not treated, a herniated disc may result in permanent nerve damage.

Cervical Fractures

A cervical fracture—commonly referred to as a broken neck—is a fracture to one or more of the seven cervical vertebrae in the spine. This type of injury is most commonly experienced in car accidents or by diving into shallow water. Cervical fractures are generally caused by a severe and sudden twist of the neck. The main risk of a cervical fracture is that the broken pieces of bone may cause damage to the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis or even death.

A broken neck is a very painful condition that often results in the victim’s inability to move their head. Additional symptoms may include difficulty balancing or walking, and tingling in the hands and feet. Breaks that don’t involve the spinal cord are often treated with the use of a neck brace, pain relieving medications, and rest. For more severe breaks, surgery may be required to set the bones in the correct place and repair the breaks. Cervical fractures that involve the spinal cord allow for very few options as the spinal cord is unable to heal itself on its own and there are currently no approved treatments for repairing spinal cord injuries.

A simple break may heal within six to eight weeks. Breaks that involve surgery may heal in months. Breaks involving the spinal cord can result in permanent injury.

Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nerves extending from the base of the skull to the buttocks. The spinal cord serves three main functions:

  • Relaying messages from the brain to various parts of the body;
  • Performing actions involving the limbs; and
  • Coordinating reflexes.

Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers WAAs many as 450,000 people in the U.S. are currently living with a spinal cord injury, and about 17,000 new spinal injuries occur across the nation each year. Motor vehicle accidents account for the majority of spinal cord injuries in younger people, while falls are responsible for the majority of spinal cord injuries in people over the age of 65. Other common causes of spinal cord injuries include acts of violence and sports-related injuries. Younger males are most likely to experience a spinal cord injury, with individuals between the ages of 16 and 30 accounting for more than half of the victims of this type of injury, and men making up 80 percent of spinal cord injury patients.

Spinal cord injuries fall into two categories:

  • Complete: Complete spinal cord injuries are those in which there is a total loss of function and sensation below the site of the injury and both sides of the body are equally affected. Complete spinal cord injuries taking place in the cervical part of the spine (the neck) result in quadriplegia or tetraplegia, which is the loss of sensation and function to the shoulders, arms, chest, torso, pelvis, and legs.
  • Incomplete: Incomplete spinal cord injuries leave some sensation and/or function below where the injury took place. Those with incomplete injuries may be able to move an arm or leg, or may have more function and sensation on one side of the body than the other.

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury following trauma include:

  • Extreme pressure or pain in the head, neck, or back;
  • Loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes;
  • Loss of function in part of the body which may be partial or complete;
  • Unusual lumps on the head or spine;
  • Impaired breathing; and
  • Urinary or bowel urgency, incontinence, or retention.

Non-surgical treatments of spinal cord injuries include observation in the intensive care unit and may also include traction of the spine to move the spinal cord back into alignment. The individual’s blood pressure, ventilation, and cardiovascular function will be monitored. Surgery may be required to stabilize the area and to prevent future pain and deformity. Unfortunately, there is no current non-surgical or surgical means for repairing the spinal cord itself.

Complications

The more severe the neck injury, the higher the risk of complications. Spinal cord injuries pose the highest risk of complications, due to the body’s inability to function properly below the site of the injury. Some complications people with spinal cord injuries may face are:

  • Pneumonia.
  • Pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores.
  • Deep vein thrombosis, which is a blood clot occurring in the veins of the legs. These clots can travel to the heart or lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, which can be fatal. Deep vein thrombosis occurs in 47-90 percent of individuals suffering a spinal cord injury, and pulmonary embolism occurs in up to half of all spinal cord injury patients.
  • Infections of the injury itself or from pressure ulcers resulting from the injury.
  • Urinary tract infections caused by urine being retained in the bladder.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Chronic pain, which is experienced by as many as 94 percent of spinal cord injury patients. The pain is generally worse in the first year after the injury, and may decrease in intensity or frequency over time.
  • Depression.
  • Premature death due to complications from spinal cord injuries or the inability to breathe due to loss of spinal cord function. The life expectancy of a spinal cord-injured patient has not improved over the past three decades, in spite of ongoing research aimed at improving quality of life for those dealing with paralysis or tetraplegia following a spinal cord injury.
  • Profound impacts on the patient’s personal relationships with their spouse or children.
  • Higher rates of divorce and substance abuse than amongst those not suffering from a spinal cord injury.

Lifelong Needs Following a Neck Injury

The majority of functional improvements that can be made following a spinal cord injury occur within the first six months after the injury. Loss of function that is still present after a year is likely to be permanent. This is why early and aggressive treatment, as well as a vigorous approach to physical therapy, offers the best opportunity for meaningful improvement after a spinal cord injury.

Individuals with a cervical spinal cord injury can face several lifelong needs, which may include:

  • Adaptive devices such as wheelchairs and assistive features in the home, which may include wheelchair ramps.
  • The services of a home health care provider who can assist the individual with daily tasks.
  • Repeated hospitalizations to treat secondary infections and other complications that frequently arise for those living with spinal cord injuries.
  • Physical therapy to improve and maintain remaining function.
  • Psychological therapy to deal with depression often experienced by those who are living with a spinal cord injury.
  • Permanent disability or the need to change careers.
  • Medications to treat secondary conditions or to relieve pain caused by the injury.

The cost of treating a spinal cord injury is generally between $350,000 and $985,000 in the first year, and as much as $5 million during the patient’s lifetime.

If You or a Loved One Has Suffered a Neck Injury, a Lawyer Might Help

Recovering from a neck injury is stressful enough without worrying about whether you have enough money to pay for the injury-related expenses you will face now and in the future. If your neck injury is due to an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover those expenses through a personal injury claim. A personal injury attorney can help you understand the legal options that are available in your case.

2nd Annual Turkey Giveaway Boohoff Law 2019

2nd Annual Turkey Giveaway Boohoff Law 20192nd Annual Turkey Giveaway – 11/22/2019

On November 22, 2019, Boohoff Law was delighted to host the 2nd Annual Turkey Giveaway at the North Port office. It was yet another amazing day giving back to the community that has given so much to us.

Being able to interact with community members during the height of the holiday season was a true treasure.

The team was very grateful to see the people of North Port line up with smiles on their faces. 300 turkeys were distributed.

2nd Annual Turkey Giveaway Boohoff Law 2019

How Much Is a Typical Car Accident Claim Worth?

In America, when someone does something careless that hurts us, the law allows us to go to the courts to seek compensation from that person. In significant part, this is what we mean when we say we are a society of laws. The law gives us the tools to use money damages as a way of making things right when someone does us wrong.

It’s not a perfect system. Money is only a rough substitute for what a car crash injury takes from us. Money is not freedom from pain. Money is not enjoyment of life. In most cases, money can only approximate compensation for the damage done by someone else’s wrongful conduct.

But still, our system of translating harm done into dollar values is better than the alternative. And so, as auto accident lawyers, it is often our job to distill the pain, suffering, and financial hardship our clients have suffered into a single number.

It is this number that people refer to when they ask “What is my car accident claim worth?”

In this blog post, we attempt to answer that question as best we can, by giving you a sense of how complex and uncertain that answer can be from one case to the next. Believe it or not, the value of a car accident claim is WAY more complicated than you might imagine.

What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Damages

The value or worth of a car accident claim comes down to the amount of compensatory damages Washington law allows a person injured in a car accident to recover from a wrongdoer (or more often, from the wrongdoer’s insurance company). There are two broad categories of compensatory damages under Washington law: economic (or special) damages, and non-economic (or general) damages.

Economic damages means “objectively verifiable monetary losses,” including:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Loss of earnings;
  • Burial costs;
  • Loss of use of property;
  • Cost of replacement or repair;
  • Cost of obtaining substitute domestic services;
  • Loss of employment; and
  • Loss of business or employment opportunities.

Under Washington law, parties with legal liability for causing injuries in a car accident may have the right to pay economic damages over time.

Non-economic damages means “subjective, non-monetary losses,” including:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Inconvenience;
  • Mental anguish;
  • Disability or disfigurement incurred by the injured party;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of society and companionship;
  • Loss of consortium with a spouse or domestic partner;
  • Injury to reputation and humiliation; and
  • Destruction of the parent-child relationship.

Unlike in other states, so-called punitive or exemplary damages are generally not available in car accident cases in Washington State.

Washington State Puts a Cap on Non-Economic Damages

Washington State law caps non-economic damages (as defined above) at 43 percent of the average annual wage in Washington multiplied by the accident victim’s life expectancy at the time of the collision (which cannot be less than 15 years). As of 2018, the average annual wage in Washington was $65,301. So, for a person with fifteen years of life expectancy, the maximum non-economic damage award recoverable under Washington law for an accident that happened in 2018 would be $421,191. For each additional year of life expectancy for an accident victim injured in 2018, that amount would rise by $28,079.

As you can see from these calculations, while Washington State law puts a cap on non-economic damages, that figure can still be quite large. For example, a 25 year-old male car accident victim with a 52 year life expectancy could recover up to $1.46 million in non-economic damages under Washington law.

There Is No Cap on Economic Damages

In contrast to non-economic damages, under Washington law there is no cap on economic damages (as defined above). What a car accident costs a victim in out-of-pocket expenses, in effect, is what it is. And that can be a very significant number. We all know, of course, that medical expenses can rise very quickly, particularly if those include long-term therapy and the cost of adaptive devices for mobility or other functions. For example, the cost of treating and living with spinal cord injury-induced paralysis can easily run several million dollars over a lifetime.

Likewise, loss of income and loss of future business or employment opportunities can represent a substantial sum of money, particularly for younger accident victims. If the 25 year-old male accident victim mentioned above has a bright future as a small business owner that is cut short by an accident that leaves him with a permanent disability resulting from a traumatic brain injury, the estimates of his lost income can be significant.

In fact, in Washington, unlike in some other states, it is not uncommon for economic damages to exceed non-economic damages, even with the relatively generous cap on non-economic damages Washington law imposes.

But Don’t Be Fooled. The Worth of a Car Accident Case Isn’t Just a Mathematical Formula.

Auto Crash Lawyers Seattle WAYou might think from the descriptions above that determining the worth of a car accident case is easy. After all, it doesn’t seem too complicated to add up out-of-pocket costs, and to plug numbers into the formula the capped non-economic damages. Right?

Well, no.

Mathematical formulas might seem straightforward, but only deceptively so. In fact, there is lots of uncertainty in what a case might worth, for three reasons. We discuss each of them below.

Proving Economic Damages Is as Much Art as Science

Yes, it seems simple to say that non-economic damages are just a tally of everything an accident costs you. And to some extent, that’s true. Lawyers for car accident victims ask their clients to collect all of the bills they’ve received for medical expenses relating to a car accident injury, for the cost of repairing property damaged in the accident, and for the cost of any services they’ve had to pay for to replace their own labor. These expenses are simple enough to add up, so long as you have the documentation to prove them.

But other parts of the economic damages calculation have more uncertainty to them. Loss of income and employment or business opportunities, for example, require looking into the past (“What would I have earned already?”) and, with even more uncertainty, looking into the future (“What might I have earned next month/year/decade?”). It takes creativity and diligence on the part of a car accident lawyer to assemble the evidence they might need to prove that their injured client had a bright and lucrative future ahead of them as an entrepreneur or skilled tradesman.

You Can’t Get More Non-Economic Damages Than the Cap, But You Can Get Less

Under Washington law, the jury decides the amount of non-economic damages a person should receive. The jury cannot, however, be told about the formula for calculating the cap on non-economic damages. In other words, if a jury awards a person more than the cap, the court will reduce the award to the maximum, capped amount. But if the jury awards less than the cap, then that is what the accident victim gets. In other words, the cap is a ceiling on non-economic damages, not a floor.

Insurance companies and lawyers understand this rule. And so, part of any settlement negotiation is an argument about whether the accident victim’s lawyer will be able to prove at least the maximum, capped amount of non-economic damages. A lawyer’s job is to try to eliminate any doubt that the jury would award no less than the capped amount.

A Case Is Only Worth What the Defendant(s) Can Pay

Finally, a dose of reality. The categories of damages above represent what a car accident victim has the right to recover as damages under Washington State law. But that doesn’t mean that in every case there is money to pay the victim that amount. Just as you can’t get blood from a stone, you can’t get (much, if any) money from a broke defendant with no insurance.

In assessing the value of a case, lawyers have to perform this reality check all the time. It is a harsh truth of our imperfect legal system that sometimes there’s no money or only limited money available to make things right for a car accident victim. In a very real sense, there is an element of randomness in who does you harm. If you get into an accident with an over-insured bank president, it’s more likely you will recover the full amount of your damages than if you get into an accident with a minimally insured teen driver.

How Car Accident Lawyers Prove Their Worth

These areas of uncertainty in not just calculating, but proving damages, and then finding parties who can pay those damages, are where car accident lawyers add value. Here at Boohoff Law, people sometimes ask us why they need a lawyer at all. If a car accident claim is just a matter of haggling with an insurance company, they wonder why they can’t just do that on their own.

And, fair enough. There are times when it’s probably not worth it to hire an attorney, such as when you get into a fender-bender that only causes property damage. Nine times out of ten, you can handle that discussion with the insurance company and get the compensation you deserve.

But it’s an entirely different situation when someone gets injured. Most non-lawyers wouldn’t have any idea how to prove to a jury the amount of future earnings an injured accident victim would have earned, or to make sure a jury empathizes with the pain and suffering of a victim enough to award at least the maximum capped amount of non-economic damages. And without being able to show you are ready and able to take a case to court and win maximum damages, there is no way to convince an insurance company to offer anything close to that amount as a settlement.

In other words, the worth of a car accident case depends, in significant part, on the talent and diligence of the attorney you choose to help you pursue your claim. The better the attorney’s reputation for out-working defense lawyers and for winning large jury verdicts, the higher the chances of your case being worth the highest amount possible under Washington law.

Choosing an Attorney Who Makes Your Car Accident Claim Worth the Most

So how do you find an attorney who can make the most of your car accident claim?

Look for an attorney with a track record of success. You could spend days scanning the results of a Google search for a car accident lawyer. But out of those, there are only some who have an established track record of recovering large settlements and jury verdicts for clients. Of course, no reputable lawyer can guarantee the value of a case. But past success is as good an indication as any of a lawyer’s skill and reputation.

Also look for an attorney who surrounds themselves with a talented, multi-faceted team. Car accident claims can involve complex fact patterns and may require detailed investigation. Find a lawyer with the staff capabilities to dig into a car accident to find out not just what happened, but also to identify all of the parties who have legal liability to you and the ability to pay.

Finally, look for an attorney with a commitment to personal service. Lots of attorneys might claim to have a personal touch with their clients. But take the temperature of the office when you meet with the attorney for an initial consultation. Is this really a lawyer and team who will return your calls and make sure your questions get answered? Does this lawyer communicate empathy and understanding in a manner that makes you confident they can explain your pain and difficulty to a jury?

Choosing the right lawyer for your car accident claim can make a significant difference in the value of your claim. To learn more about the potential worth of your car accident claim, contact an experienced car accident lawyer today.

How Long After Car Accident Can You Claim Injury?

The Washington Department of Transportation estimates that more than 100,000 crashes occur on Washington’s roads and highways each year, with approximately one-third resulting in injury to drivers and occupants. Washington is a tort-liability state, which means the party who causes the accident is liable for damages. You need to file a claim with your insurance carrier as soon as possible, but you do have some time to file a legal claim against the other party. Washington law provides a statute of limitations—a time limit—in which you can take legal action after a car accident, and the exact time limit varies on the circumstances of your accident.

We have compiled the following guide to provide information about Washington car accident injury claims and their associated statutes of limitations. If you have been involved in a car accident, it’s imperative to be aware of time limits so you do not miss the opportunity to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.

Filing an Insurance Claim After a Washington Car Accident

Sometimes drivers don’t want to file an accident claim with their auto insurance carrier because they are worried about an increase in their insurance rates. Other times, drivers assume they don’t need to file a claim with their own carrier when another driver caused the accident. But regardless of fault, you should file a car accident claim with your own carrier for the following reasons:

  • Your policy requires you file a claim. Most auto insurance carriers require drivers to report damages when their coverage might apply. Read your policy carefully because failure to report damage from a car accident might result in coverage denial or policy cancellation.
  • Your vehicle is totaled or needs extensive repairs. In severe accidents, it’s unlikely the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier will accept liability without a lawsuit. When you file an insurance claim under your collision coverage, if applicable, your policy will cover repairs or replacement. Your insurance company will seek damages from the at-fault driver’s carrier and you won’t have to wait months to deal with the damage to your vehicle.
  • Your insurance carrier will fight for you. Even if you believe another party caused the car accident, that doesn’t prevent them from filing a claim against you. If you immediately report a car accident to your carrier, they will defend you against such claims.

Insurance companies remain profitable by watching their bottom line; this means they don’t approve every claim submitted to them. If you fail to report a claim to your carrier, you might have to pay higher premiums or have your policy canceled. Protect yourself from these consequences by providing all the necessary information to your adjuster, but only share the facts of the accident. Don’t talk about blame or negligence. Your insurance company will investigate the circumstances of the accident to determine liability.

Statutes of Limitations in Washington Car Accident Claims

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a time limit within which you can take legal action after you have been harmed. Prosecutors must also comply with statutes of limitations when a person commits a crime. Statutes of limitations vary greatly depending on the circumstances of a car accident, and whether a crime was involved. In civil actions resulting from car accidents, the statute of limitations specifically refers to the amount of time you have to bring a car accident lawsuit against another party in which you allege that their negligence or actions caused you injury. When the statute of limitations runs out for your injury, it is unlikely that a Washington court will agree to hear your case.

The applicable time limit that applies to your car accident depends on which party(s) you name in a lawsuit, and whether or not the car accident resulted in a fatality. Below are the most common applicable statutes of limitations under Washington law for car accident-related injury claims.

  • Car accident injury claims. In most cases, you will have three years from the date of your car accident to take legal action against the at-fault driver. Once the three-year statute of limitations expires, it’s unlikely a Washington court will hear your case, no matter how strong it might be.
  • Defective vehicle injury claims. If you sustained injuries in a car accident because of a defective vehicle or defective car part, a product liability attorney can help you file a product liability lawsuit to seek compensation for damages related to your injuries. In most cases, you have three years to bring a product liability case. If an exception applies to your case, Washington has an absolute time limit, called a statute of repose, for product liability cases. The statute of repose is 12 years from the original purchase date, which means you cannot take legal action beyond 12 years from the original purchase date of the car or defective parts, such as tires or brake pads.
  • Claims against a government entity. If you get into a car accident with a government employee or a poorly maintained road caused your accident, you also have three years to take legal action in Washington; however, you must file a damage claim with the Washington State Office of Risk Management first. The city of Seattle and many counties have their own forms for this process. If you aren’t able to come to a settlement with the government entity, you can file a car accident lawsuit after a 60-day waiting period.
  • Wrongful death car accident claims. If your loved one died in a car accident caused by another party, you might be able to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit depending on your relationship with the deceased. Washington law permits you to seek compensation for pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and non-economic losses based on your relationship, as long as you take legal action against the allegedly liable party within three years of your loved one’s death.

Exceptions to Washington Statutes of Limitations

Seattle Auto Injury LawyerWashington laws have explicit and varied statutes of limitations for almost every type of crime or tort. While courts rarely make exceptions to a statute of limitations, there are some circumstances in which you can argue that you are entitled to an exception to the standard time limit. Some circumstances that might convince a Washington court to toll, or extend, the statute of limitations time clock include:

Minor and Disabled Car Accident Victims

A person under age 18 or a disabled person who suffers injuries in a car accident might have grounds to ask a Washington court to extend the statute of limitations for making an injury claim. For example, if a child’s parents do not help the child file a lawsuit for their injuries, they can choose to take legal action when they turn 18. Once a minor turns 18, the three-year statute of limitations clock begins. Disabled persons who don’t understand the nature of the proceedings might be granted extended time for a guardian to file a lawsuit on their behalf. Keep in mind that each car accident has distinctive circumstances, so you must consult with an experienced Washington car accident attorney to determine the best course of action in your situation.

Unknown Location of the Named Defendant

It can sometimes be challenging to serve a court summons on an at-fault party. Washington law allows courts to toll the statute of limitations when the defendant has traveled out of state and/or conceals their travel. Sometimes travel is for business or pleasure; other times, the defendant might travel out of state to avoid getting served a summons for a lawsuit. In either case, the law is on your side. Once the defendant returns to Washington, your attorney can help you petition the court for more time to take legal action.

Military Service

Washington law follows federal law in that it permits courts to toll the statute of limitations in car accident injury cases when the defendant cannot participate in proceedings or receive a summons and other court documents because they are actively serving in the military.

Death

According to Washington law, “if a person entitled to bring an action dies before the expiration of the time limited…and the cause of action survives,” that person’s legal representatives can bring a lawsuit on the deceased person’s behalf after the statute of limitations expires, but a lawsuit must be brought within one year of the person’s death.

Coexisting Disabilities

A court might agree to toll the statute of limitations for a car accident based on coexisting disabilities when an accident victim suffers severe or catastrophic injuries. Some car accidents cause far more extensive injuries than others. If your attorney can provide evidence to the court that your injury prevented you from filing an injury claim, the court might grant an extension. Some examples of car accident injuries that might cause coexisting disabilities for some time include severe burns or severe internal organ damage. In these cases a doctor might medically induce a coma, leaving an accident victim unable to bring a claim until they recover.

Delayed Discovery of Injury

Washington law also allows for delayed discovery. After being involved in a car accident, you might not realize the extent of your injuries. Further, some injuries cause chronic complications, but might not show symptoms for weeks or months. In most cases, the statute of limitations will start from the date of your car accident, but in some cases, the statute of limitations won’t begin until you discover your injuries. Delayed discovery of an injury is far more common in medical malpractice cases or product liability cases than in car accident claims. Yet, delayed discovery can occur after a car accident.

For example, if a victim, especially a young child, sustains a head injury, they may not show obvious symptoms right away. The force of impact of a severe car accident can cause a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many mild TBIs, commonly called concussions, heal without intervention in a few months and don’t have lifelong consequences. But children’s brains don’t fully develop until after age 20, so mild concussions can sometimes impact development. Parents might not notice the effects of the injury until their toddler, young child, or teen misses important developmental milestones.

Car accident victims of all ages with severe TBIs might experience delayed symptoms including struggles with memory, reasoning, sensations, sight, and balance, as well as personality changes and aggressive behavior. Victims and doctors struggle to diagnose TBIs, making them a common reason for delayed discovery to apply to a car accident.

Don’t Wait Too Long to File Your Claim

If you don’t bring a lawsuit within the statute of limitations for your car accident, you risk losing your chance to recover damages for injuries and related losses, unless you can prove that you qualify for one of the previously listed exceptions. If you try to bring a lawsuit when the statute of limitations has run out, it’s likely the defense will file a motion to dismiss the case and the court will likely grant it. Although exceptions exist, a judge has discretionary power to decide whether or not to hear your case.

Not only should you make sure that you file your car accident claim before the statute of limitations runs out, but you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. As time goes by, you lose advantages that can help support your case. Some potential challenges you might face by waiting too long include:

  • Inadequate documentation. As time progresses, it becomes harder for your lawyer to secure the documentation needed to support your case. This includes copies of medical records, police reports, and other documents relevant to your car accident.
  • Diminishing evidence. Evidence related to your car accident can disappear and decay over time. Your attorney will likely hire an investigator to uncover all the facts of your car accident, but when too much time passes it makes gathering evidence more difficult and costly.
  • Unreliable witnesses. It’s likely one or more witnesses stopped at the scene of your car accident; they might have even spoken to the police. But tracking down witnesses after time has passed is challenging, sometimes impossible, and their memories of the event aren’t as reliable.

The best way to ensure you get the compensation you deserve for your car accident injuries is to hire an experienced car accident lawyer who understands how Washington statutes of limitations apply to your case and who can help you with your claim as soon as possible.

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid in Washington?

When the unthinkable happens and you lose a close family member, it takes time to make the necessary adjustments. You and your family undergo significant life changes. When you have young children, the shift in responsibilities is often overwhelming. If your loved one was the primary breadwinner in your family, you might not want to think about the financial impacts of their death, but it’s unavoidable.

If your loved one died because of someone else’s negligence, it’s important to understand your legal options. If you’re entitled to recover wrongful death damages, you should understand how wrongful death settlements are paid.

When someone caused your loved one’s death, a wrongful death settlement can provide you with benefits that will allow you and your family to maintain your household’s finances. Regardless of how your loved one’s death occurred, you shouldn’t try to move forward without learning the answers to your personal, financial, and legal questions. These might include:

  • What is a wrongful death claim?
  • How does a wrongful death occur?
  • What kind of damages can you recover in a wrongful death lawsuit?
  • Who is responsible for paying wrongful death damages?
  • Who has the right to file a claim for damages?
  • How much time do you have to make a wrongful death claim?
  • Do you have to file a lawsuit to recover damages?

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

If your family member died because of someone else’s negligent act, you may have the legal right to make a wrongful death claim. The Revised Code of Washington, RCW 4.20.010, Wrongful death–Right of action, gives certain dependents, registered domestic partners, and family members legal rights to recover damages after their loved one’s death. The statutes allow families to recover benefits to pay for their emotional losses and replace their loved one’s financial contributions to their household.

As you consider your options, you should know that the state legislature recently changed Washington’s Wrongful Death laws. Effective July 28, 2019, new provisions in the law enhance a family’s legal damage recovery rights. The changes are retroactive, so they apply to any pending court cases. They also apply to cases where the event occurred a year or two ago but the statute of limitations has not yet run. Discuss your case with a wrongful death attorney to learn if these changes affect your legal rights.

Who Has the Right to Receive a Payment for Wrongful Death Damages?

RCW 4.20.020, Wrongful death—Beneficiaries of action identifies the people who are the decedent’s legal beneficiaries. These are the decedent’s:

  • Spouse;
  • Registered Domestic Partner;
  • Children or stepchildren; and/or
  • Parents or siblings, but only if there is no spouse or registered domestic partner and there are no children.

What Kind of Damages Can You Recover?

When a person dies, their personal representative may file a suit for the economic and non-economic damages the decedent would have recovered in a personal injury lawsuit. These include economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages include medical bills and other out-of-pocket expenses incurred by and on behalf of the decedent while they were still living. These might include:

  • Income loss;
  • Medical expenses;
  • Mobility devices and prosthesis;
  • Therapy;
  • Medical transportation;
  • Domestic replacement services, such as cleaning or cooking services;
  • Plastic surgery; and
  • Funeral expenses.

Non-Economic Damages

A court determines non-economic damages based on psychological, emotional, and lifestyle losses. When a person dies, their personal representative may file a suit for non-economic damages the decedent would have recovered in a personal injury claim. These might include:

  • Pain and suffering;
  • Emotional distress;
  • Loss of marital consortium;
  • Loss of domestic partner consortium;
  • Loss of bodily functions;
  • Scars and disfigurement; and
  • Permanent limitations and disabilities.

Beneficiaries’ Economic and Non-Economic Damages

A deceased person’s beneficiaries may also file a lawsuit to recover their own past and future economic and non-economic damages. Each beneficiary has a right to damages. Courts base a beneficiary’s damages on their relationship with the deceased. Damages may compensate the beneficiary for losses such as:

  • Financial support, money, goods, and services;
  • Marital consortium;
  • Domestic partner consortium;
  • Emotional support;
  • Love;
  • Affection;
  • Care;
  • Guidance; and
  • Services.

How Does a Wrongful Death Occur?

Accidental death can occur under ordinary or extraordinary circumstances. Each day people die because of dog bites, defective products, and slip-and-falls. Fatal auto accidents and on-the-job injuries occur suddenly and accidentally. The circumstances under which your loved died determine your legal right to file a claim for wrongful death damages. The following are some of the most common situations in which beneficiaries may seek damages in a wrongful death claim:

  • Workplace accidents: The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries reported that 76 work-related deaths occurred in the state in 2018. Of the workers who died, 92 percent were men. The fatally injured workers ranged in age from 18 to 83 years old. They died because of vehicle accidents, falls, machine-related events, and being struck by an object.
  • Auto accidents: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration documented 565 vehicle accident deaths in Washington during 2017. When someone else’s negligence causes an accident that results in fatal injuries, the deceased person’s family has a right to file a claim for wrongful death damages.
  • Drowning: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drowning is the number five cause of unintentional deaths in the U.S. Twenty percent of drowning victims are children under age 14. Drowning occurs in public and private pools, in parks, and during water-related recreational activities such as boating.
  • Falls: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites falls as a major cause of serious injury and death. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to serious and fatal injuries.
  • Medical errors: A study by Johns Hopkins medical professionals determined that deaths caused by medical errors occur frequently but are underreported. The study estimates that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Who Is Responsible for Paying Wrongful Death Damages?

Any person or entity that caused or contributed to your loved one’s death should pay your wrongful death damages. Often, more than one person or entity shares responsibility for a single event. This is important as Washington’s RCW 4.22.040, Right of Contribution statute dictates that one or more persons may share legal liability for a single act.

In pursuing a wrongful death claim, it’s important to identify and locate all of the responsible parties. This often requires an in-depth investigation that includes witness interviews, a site investigation, procurement of police and EMS reports, and many other factors. The list of responsible parties depends on the nature of the event.

  • Auto accidents – The driver is usually at fault for an accident. If another person owns the vehicle, that person may share responsibility, as well. Responsible parties can also include anyone whose product or service contributed to or caused the accident. These may include a mechanic, a maintenance company, or a vehicle or component manufacturer.
  • Truck accidents – Unless a trucker is an independent operator, they are usually driving a tractor that belongs to a trucking company, an employer, or another owner who may bear some responsibility in addition to the driver. The trailer a trucker hauls also often belongs to a separate company. The trailer owner or the contractor who loaded the trailer are often responsible if an unsecured load shifts and causes an accident. A manufacturer or maintenance contractor also sometimes share liability because of a defective product or service.
  • Premises injury – A private property owner is responsible for accidents caused by adverse conditions on their property. A commercial property owner, maintenance staff, security service, repair contractors, and managers may share liability for conditions related to their areas of responsibility. If a property includes a pool, the owner and their staff are responsible for keeping it safe and secure.
  • Product liability – If a negligently manufactured product causes a fatal injury, the manufacturer may be held liable. A product distributor is also liable if its owner’s or employee’s negligence contributed to an injury.
  • Workplace accidents – If your loved one was fatally injured on the job, the employer is only responsible for workers’ compensation benefits through the Washington Department of Labor & Industries. As a beneficiary, you may qualify for a cash payment, a burial payment, and a monthly survivor’s benefit. If the employer intentionally caused the fatal injury, you have a right to pursue additional damages against the company. If a non-employer or non-co-worker fatally injure your family member during the course of employment, you may have a right to recover additional damages through a third-party action.
  • Medical malpractice – A medical professional is legally responsible for a patient’s death if they failed to meet the accepted standard of care, and that failure caused a fatal injury.

How Do You File a Wrongful Death Claim?

In many cases, a responsible party in a wrongful death case will report the incident to their liability insurance carrier. The insurance company will investigate the claim but that doesn’t mean they will pay you a settlement. Once the claim department completes their liability investigation, they might contact you to explore settlement options so they can avoid litigation. They might also close their case file and wait until they hear from you or your legal representative.

When a wrongful death case involves complicated liability issues, insurance companies sometimes deny liability outright and refuse to offer a settlement. They might also choose to make a nominal payment based on defense costs. This scenario is also a possibility when a negligent commercial entity is self-insured or has a large retention limit. In these situations, the insured pays all or a large portion of the claim out of company funds. They may do whatever they can to avoid paying a substantial sum.

To avoid complications and time delays, you should consult with a wrongful death attorney to discuss your legal options.

How Much Time Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

It’s difficult to make critical decisions during the early stages of grief after your loved one has died. Despite the discomfort it causes, it’s important to take action as soon as possible. In Washington, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is three years. This means you have three years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If you do not settle a claim for damages or file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you are likely to lose your right to recover damages at all.

Must You File a Lawsuit to Recover Wrongful Death Damages?

A lawsuit is the most efficient way to present your evidence and demand the damages to which you are entitled. A lawsuit places a formal demand on the people or entities who fatally injured your loved one. It forces them and their insurance companies to produce evidence and witnesses you might not know about. It compels responsible parties to cooperate so you can learn about what really happened.

Insurance company representatives can be kind and cooperative. But even if you develop a rapport during their investigation, you should understand that your relationship won’t guarantee a fair settlement or any settlement at all. Insurance companies often contact survivors for information to evaluate their claims and establish reserves. When they’ve gathered all of the information they need, the claim department might deny your claim anyway.

Do You Still Have Questions?

Your loved one’s wrongful death case is serious. You need a serious wrongful death attorney from the very beginning. A wrongful death action requires timely attention and knowledgeable effort. When you contact an attorney early, they can spend time discussing your case, analyzing the evidence, and helping you understand complex legal and damages issues. If you decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit, your attorney will be fully prepared to take immediate action.

When you consult a wrongful death attorney, you don’t have to commit to filing a lawsuit or taking any other action. Meeting with an attorney allows you to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. It gives you a chance to receive guidance about your legal options.