Damages for Wrongful Death of a Child
The damages recoverable for the wrongful death of a child include medical, hospital, and medication expense, and the loss of consortium (love, companionship, services and support) that the child provided to the parents. The parents are also entitled to recover damages for the loss of financial support that the parents received from the child, and up to the time when the child reaches the age of majority. To recover lost financial support, the parents will usually have to show a history of receiving support from the child before that child's death. The parents may also recover damages for the loss of love and companionship of the child and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship. The actual amount recoverable will depend on the facts of each individual case, but will often depend on various factors like the age, health and capacity of the child and the situation of the surviving parents. Damages for the loss of love and companionship of the child and for injury to or destruction of the parent-child relationship may also encompass recovery for the parents' own grief, mental anguish or suffering caused by the death of their child. These damages may also be reflected in each parent's need for individual expenses necessarily caused by the child's death, like the expense of reasonable and necessary psychological treatment, counseling and medication. Oftentimes it will be prudent to present expert psychiatric or psychological testimony to support the parent's claim for these damages. Damages may also be recovered for the parents' loss of companionship, including the loss of mutual society and protection of the deceased child in an amount that is fair and equitable under the circumstances. Wrongful Death of Adult Child The specific statute that permits an action for the wrongful death of a child applies only to minor children (under the age of 18). If the child is 18 years or older, a different statute applies. In the case of the wrongful death of an adult, Washington has created two tiers of beneficiaries who may recover damages. In the first tier, the wrongful death action is brought for the benefit of a surviving spouse and/or children. In the second tier, the action is brought on behalf of a surviving parent or sibling who may be dependent on the deceased for support. Thus, a parent can only recover for the wrongful death of an adult child if that parent was dependent on that child for support. The phrase "dependent for support" is interpreted by the courts to mean financial dependence. A parent of an adult child must be financially dependent on the child at the time of the child's death as a condition to recovering damages for the wrongful death of that adult child. The statute also requires the parent to be a resident of the United States at the time of the adult child's death. Take for example the case where an adult man dies in a traffic accident caused by another person. The man is married and has two children. In that situation, the man's surviving wife and children can maintain a cause of action for wrongful death against the other driver. If that man is unmarried with no children, the man's surviving parents may bring a wrongful death action but only if the parents can show they were financially dependent on their son at the time of his death. This requirement is part of a law that was first enacted more than 100 years ago, when it was much more common for adult children to financially support their parents. Today most parents are financially independent and do not need to rely on the financial assistance of their children. As a result, the law as it stands now can cause some very unjust results. Take for example the child whose wrongful death is caused shortly after the child's 18th birthday. In that situation, the parents have no legal means to recover against the responsible party. Not unless the parents can show that they were financially dependent on their young child - a situation that almost never occurs. The law definitely needs to be changed to reflect the current norms of society involving the relationship of parents with their adult children. A parent does not have to be financially dependent on an adult child before the death of that child will cause a significant amount of pain and loss for that parent regardless of the financial consequences of death. For this reason the law should be changed to remove the financial dependence condition.