Attorney for Wrongful Death

The death of a loved one is very difficult. The dealing with the legal aspect of a death that was caused by the negligence of another needs to be timely handled by an experienced attorney.

Losing a loved one, whether from an accident involving a vehicle, construction site, medical malpractice, defective product or any negligent act, can make surviving family members feel angry, helpless and overwhelmed.  GLP Attorneys can help.

Although wrongful death cases may share the same circumstances as cases in our other practice areas (such as automobile accidents or defective products), wrongful death cases are an entirely different matter. The rules as to what harms are compensable are different and more stringent than in a typical injury case.

Wrongful death claims require analysis and understanding as to who can bring a claim and whom on behalf claims can be made.

1) Who can bring the action?

Only a Personal Representative can bring an action on behalf of the decedent’s estate and statutory beneficiaries. Therefore, a probate action must be filed to appoint a Personal Representative.

2)  Who are the Statutory Beneficiaries?

RCW 4.20.020 dictates that only people with a very particular relationship to the deceased may bring an action for wrongful death. There are two tiers of beneficiaries:

First tier beneficiaries may always bring a claim.

Second tier beneficiaries may bring a claim only if certain conditions are satisfied.

First Tier Beneficiaries:

There are currently 4 categories of first tier beneficiaries in Washington:

a) Spouses;

b) Registered Domestic Partners;*

c) Children; or

d) Step-children.

These persons may bring a wrongful death action for damages on behalf of the deceased.

*Same-sex marriage:  On June 7, 2012, the bill legalizing same sex marriage came into effect. Accordingly, state registered domestic partners will automatically become spouses, unless they choose to opt out.

Second Tier Beneficiaries:

There are currently two categories of second tier beneficiaries in Washington:

a) Parents of the decedent, or

b) Siblings of the decedent.

A second tier beneficiary may only bring a wrongful death claim if:

a) There are no first tier beneficiaries, and

b) They are dependent on the deceased for support, and

c) They are US residents at the time of the deceased’s death.

If you are not a first or second tier beneficiary, then you cannot be a statutory beneficiary for purposes of a wrongful death claim. Accordingly, you therefore cannot recover damages for wrongful death.

3) Is the decedent a child – Adult or Minor?

Special rules apply where the deceased is a child. These rules become more complex when the child was not a minor at the time of death, i.e. an Adult child.

Adult Children:

A parent of a child who has died may only have standing to pursue a wrongful death action on behalf of an adult child where there are no first tier beneficiaries, they are dependent on the child for support, and they were US residents at the time of death. [1]

The loss of a child to a parent, whether the child is 17 or 18 can be just as devastating to the parent, but the law limits the parents claims if the child is 18 years or older. 

Damages are limited for the death of an Adult Child if NO Dependency established: 

What this means in reality is that a parent who has lost a child who is 18 years or older, due to the negligence of another, and who is not dependent on their child for economic support, is prevented from recovering general damages for their loss of a loved one and their adult child. The only claim the parents have is an Estate claim. An Estate claim is for the net economic loss to the estate of the decedent, which is limited to out of pocket expenses of the funeral, medical bills incurred prior to death which were caused by the negligence, and lastly, “net accumulations” to the estate which is the recovery of  net value to the estate, calculated by taking the projected gross earnings of the adult child over their lifetime and offsetting this total against the total estimated cost of consumption of the adult child over their lifetime.

[1] The same analysis applies to a sibling of the decedent. If the sibling was dependent on the deceased sibling.

GLP Attorneys proved financial dependency in a wrongful death case:

GLP Attorneys has resolved a medical negligence and wrongful death claim against Sono Bello and Dr. Marco Sobrino for the death a 28 year old woman, Aura Javellana for $1,876,636. Ms. Javellana died May 27, 2009 as a result of acute lidocaine toxicity from a tumescent liposuction surgery performed the day before. GLP proved that Ms. Javellana’s sister and mom were both dependant upon her for support.

With the rise in popularity of plastic surgery today, the number of office-based surgical procedures, as well as the number of facilities doing these procedures, has increased dramatically. A cosmetic surgery facility that does not use general anesthesia falls under the category of “office-based surgery centers”. Most states, including Washington, are woefully lacking in regulations to monitor the safety of these facilities for its patients. These facilities are not subject to the same state and federal licensing rules as hospitals and other health care facilities. There is no licensing requirement, and no inspections; they are not even required to report a death. While states are scrambling to get these regulations in place, the public remains unprotected, and unaware of the potential dangers within these facilities.

Promises of a simple procedure and quick recovery led Ms. Javellana to a Sono Bello Body Contour Center in Bellevue, Washington on May 26, 2009, for tumescent liposuction. Sono Bello advertised the surgery as a new, safe and quick procedure, where most patients return to work the same or next day, with an incision so tiny that only a band-aid is needed to cover it up.

Tumescent liposuction is a type of cosmetic surgery that does not require general anesthesia. Instead, the solution, containing a mixture of lidocaine, saline, and epinephrine is injected underneath the skin into the fatty layers. The fat is then suctioned out with the use of a small cannula. Careful monitoring of the amount of tumescent solution administered to a patient during surgery, as well as how much fatty material is suctioned out, is critical in order to avoid an overdose of lidocaine. Discovery later revealed that the staff of Sono Bello failed to keep track of how much tumescent solution was injected into Ms. Javellana, and also failed to document how much fatty material was removed

Sono Bello staff allowed Ms. Javellana to leave after the procedure on her own, in a taxi, despite their policy that all patients are to be driven home and accompanied by a responsible adult. Ms. Javellana went to her hotel. The next day she was found dead in her room. The King County Medical Examiner concluded that she died of acute lidocaine intoxication.

The lawsuit brought on behalf of Ms. Javellana’s Estate and her mother and sister, sued Sono Bello and Dr. Sobrino for negligence, alleging that Ms. Javellana relied heavily on Sono Bello’s advertising, marketing materials, and discharge instructions, which mislead her into believing that the procedure was safe, had an “extremely low rate of complications,” was “virtually painless”, that the major risks and complications of traditional liposuction had been “ruled out”, that she could “return to work the same or next day”, and that she would only have “mild recovery discomfort” or aches and pains similar to a “good workout.”

Plaintiffs also alleged that Ms. Javellana was not evaluated for the procedure by a licensed health care provider until she was being prepped for surgery, that Sono Bello failed to inform Ms. Javellana of the procedure’s known associated risk of lidocaine toxicity, that neither Dr. Sobrino nor his medical assistant documented the total amount of tumescent solution used during the procedure or the amount of material removed, that Dr. Sobrino left Sono Bello without ensuring that Ms. Javellana was stable and without giving appropriate discharge instructions, and that Sono Bello, its staff, and Dr. Sobrino did not ensure that Ms. Javellana would be in the presence of an adult after her release.

Sono Bello and Dr. Sobrino had a single insurance policy of $2,000,000.00 which was diminished by defense costs and defense attorney’s fees. Defendants offered their insurance policy limits, less than what had been spent defending the case, for a settlement of $1,876,636.79.

Sono Bello tried to buy confidentiality of the settlement but the family felt very strongly that they did not want to be paid for silence. To Ms. Javellana’s family, the non-confidentiality of the settlement will help assure that the doctor and the clinic will be held accountable, and that in the future others will be made aware of the risks of cosmetic surgery as well as the risks of outpatient facilities that are not regulated by the State.

GLP Attorneys understands the legal complexities involved in bringing a wrongful death claim, from filing probate and appointing a personal representative to calculating damages for future loss of earnings as well as loss of consortium and companionship. We preserve your right to seek damages against the responsible individuals or companies.

Our experience, dedication and care for our clients is well known in Washington, as is our record of successfully handling wrongful death claims for many families throughout the state. Contact us if you need a compassionate attorney to help you through this difficult time.

If you have a wrongful death case, please call 800.273.5005 or email our attorneys at attorneys@glpattorneys.com