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Wrongful Death

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Public Record in Washington State?

Are Wrongful Death Settlements Public Record in Washington State?

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When you are filing a wrongful death claim, you may be wondering if the information about your case and any potential wrongful death settlement will become public record in Washington State. In general, wrongful death settlements are not public record. As such, you should not anticipate that a wrongful death settlement reached prior to a trial or during a trial will be accessible to the public. However, there are exceptions, and it is important to understand how information about wrongful death settlements can become part of the public record, and what steps you may be able to take to avoid having the details of your settlement agreement accessible by the public. Our Washington State wrongful death lawyers can provide you with more information, and we can assist you with your wrongful death claim.

Wrongful Death Settlements Can Include Confidentiality Clauses

Most people who file wrongful death lawsuits do not want information about settlements to be accessible by the public, and most defendants also do not want the details of the settlement to become part of the public record. For these reasons, wrongful death settlement agreements often contain confidentiality clauses that limit access to or discussion of the details of the settlement. A confidentiality agreement is a contract between the parties, which means that either party’s disclosure of the settlement details can result in a breach of contract claim.

Without a confidentiality clause, settlement agreements themselves—as long as an exception does not apply, which we will discuss below—are not required to be part of any public record. Washington State courts have not held that the public has a right to general settlement records, and there is no requirement that general settlement records be made accessible to the public. There is also no central location in which settlement agreements are housed or stored, unlike court cases in Washington.

Settlements Involving a Public Agency May Be Accessed by the Public

Regardless of whether you include an express confidentiality agreement in your wrongful death settlement, information about settlements in wrongful death claims and other civil lawsuits is not generally part of the public record. Even with a request made through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or by other means of access, settlement agreements are generally private. This is also true of documents pertaining to settlement negotiations. However, there is an exception when the settlement involves a public agency. When a public agency is involved, the settlement may be accessible under the Washington State Public Records Act.

Settlements Filed with the Court or Litigated May Be Part of the Public Record

In addition to settlements involving a public agency, any settlement that was filed with a court in Washington State or that ended up in a court case may also be part of the public record and may be accessible through ordinary means of accessing court records, according to Washington case law

Contact a Washington State Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have questions about wrongful death settlements in Washington, or if you need assistance negotiating a wrongful death settlement in your case, one of our Washington State wrongful death attorneys can help. Contact Khan Injury Law PLLC for assistance.

What is a Wrongful Death?

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Washington law defines a wrongful death as the death of a person caused by the wrongful act, default, or neglect of another. Because the victim of an accident resulting in a wrongful death is unable to argue his or her own case, the claim must be filed by someone else, usually a close relative. Furthermore, the plaintiff, acting on behalf of a deceased loved one, must be able to provide evidence demonstrating that the defendant failed to use reasonable care or committed an illegal act, which caused the victim’s death. Generally, a wrongful death claim can only be filed if the circumstances of the accident would have supported a personal injury claim if the victim had survived.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Only certain individuals can file a wrongful death claim, including:

  • The surviving spouse or registered domestic partner of the deceased; and
  • The children or stepchildren of the deceased party.

If the deceased party has no surviving spouse, partner, or child, his or her parents or siblings can file the claim, but only if they were:

  • Dependent upon the deceased for support; and
  • Residents of the U.S. at the time of the decedent’s death.

There are also specific rules that apply when a wrongful death claim involves the death of a child. In these cases, either parent can file a claim, although in order to be eligible, he or she must have regularly contributed to the support of the child. Furthermore, if only one parent brings an action, that individual must serve the other parent with a copy of the complaint, explaining that the right to recover damages will be barred unless the other parent joins the suit as a party within 20 days.

Potential Damages

Damages in a wrongful death case are paid to the decedent’s estate and can include compensation for the following costs:

  • The decedent’s medical bills;
  • Funeral and burial expenses;
  • Lost income that the decedent would have earned if he or she had survived;
  • The pain and suffering endured by the decedent as a result of his or her injuries;
  • Property damage; and
  • The loss of companionship and care by the decedent’s loved ones.

When a case involves the death of a child, the parents can collect special damages in addition to those intended to compensate for medical expenses, such as:

  • Damages for the loss of the love and companionship of the child; and
  • Compensation for the destruction of the parent-child relationship.

However, in order to collect any damages, a decedent’s representative must file a wrongful death claim within three years of the date of the decedent’s death. If the decedent’s representative fails to file before this deadline, the case will most likely be barred and the victim’s surviving relatives will miss out on the opportunity to obtain a judgment of liability.

Contact an Experienced Seattle Wrongful Death Attorney Today

Although collecting compensation can never replace the loss of a beloved relative, it can allow families to pay necessary expenses and remain financially afloat while they mourn. To speak with an experienced Seattle personal injury attorney about your own case, please contact Khan Injury Law at 206-629-9312 today.

Washington Maritime Accident Laws

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Washington is the permanent residence of many maritime workers, who access the water and their vessels from the state’s many ports. While working as a maritime worker may have its advantages, it is a highly dangerous job, leading to countless injuries every year.

Because most of these injuries occur on the “high seas,” understanding who is liable for maritime accidents and who has jurisdiction over these accident types can be confusing. At the law offices of the Khan Injury Law, we help injured maritime workers and their families in Washington seek the compensation that they deserve after an accident. To learn more, please call our law firm today for your free consultation.

Common Types of Maritime Accidents

Working in the maritime industry is inherently dangerous, and every year, numerous workers suffer catastrophic injuries as a result of errors and negligence. Some of the most common types of maritime accidents and injuries include:

  • Oil rig explosions and machinery accidents;
  • Fires;
  • Slip and falls;
  • Drowning and near-drowning accidents;
  • Tugboat injuries;
  • Crush injuries from cargo loading and transport errors;
  • Amputation injuries caused by defective or heavy machinery, equipment, or cargo; and
  • Lacerations and burns from fires, explosions, equipment malfunctions, and more.

These accident and injury types can be severe enough to cost a maritime worker their life, or significantly change it. An affected worker may be unable to return to work, care for themselves, or even do basic things that they once loved, such as go for a walk.

Who Is Liable for Maritime Accidents and What is the Jones Act?

While Washington may have many ports and hundreds of maritime workers, it is important to note that state law alone does not govern liability for maritime accidents, as it does with many other workplace and personal injury types. Instead, the Jones Act, which is a piece of federal legislation, provides some protection for maritime workers who are injured at sea.

One of the biggest differences between the Jones Act and other workers’ compensation laws throughout the country is that the in order for an injured maritime worker to receive compensation under the act, they must bring forth a negligence-based claim against their employer or liable party. In traditional workers’ compensation claims, workers are paid for their injuries regardless of fault, and are barred from bringing forth negligence-based actions. A negligence claim can be brought forth when an employer does anything that is outside of the reasonable standard of care that is required to provide for workers’ safety, such as the failure to properly train workers, provide maritime workers with the necessary equipment to do their jobs, or failure to provide equipment that is working properly and is maintained on a regular basis. A worker only needs to prove that the employer’s negligence played a part in the causation of their accident and injuries in order to hold the employer liable for damages.

Another difference is that while workers’ compensation applies to nearly all workers, the Jones Act only covers maritime workers who are “seamen.” In order to be a seaman, a worker must generally be a worker on a vessel that operates in navigable waters, and must perform work that is directly related to that vessel’s purpose and operation.

Right to Maintenance and Cure

There is another provision of maritime law that more closely resembles workers’ compensation systems of compensation – this is known as a maritime worker’s right to maintenance and cure. An injured seaman is entitled to these benefits regardless of negligence, so long as their injury or illness was sustained during the course of their employment.

The right to maintenance means the right to room and board while the seaman is recovering from injuries. If the seaman is at sea, then the vessel must provide this; if the seaman is not at home, then the employer should pay for things such as the worker’s rent, utilities, and food while they are recovering.

The right to cure, on the other hand, refers to the right of the maritime worker to seek compensation for the full value of all necessary and reasonable medical expenses associated with treating the injury. Both maintenance and cure must be paid to the seaman, by the employer, regardless of fault, until the seaman reached maximum medical improvement, or the point where they will not recover further.

Death on the High Seas Act

Another maritime law that may affect those who have lost a loved one in a maritime accident is the Death on the High Seas Act. This act allows surviving family members of a maritime worker to file a claim against a negligent employer for damages related to the loved one’s death.

Steps to Take after a Maritime Accident

Knowing what steps to take after a maritime accident can help preserve your right to seek damage and recover the full value of your compensation amount. Some things to do include:

  • Seek medical care. You should seek medical care as soon as possible after your maritime accident, and make sure that this care is properly documented.
  • Inform your employer of the accident. You should inform your employer of the accident as soon as you are physically able to do so. This is true regardless of whether you plan on seeking compensation under a no-fault, or negligence-based, system of recovery.
  • Document what happened. Take time to write down exactly what you were doing at the time of the accident and what you believe caused the accident. If anyone witnessed your accident, write down their names and contact information, as well as some notes about what they saw.
  • Contact an attorney. You should contact an attorney immediately. Maritime law is very complicated, and understanding how to recover compensation can be elusive. If you wait too long to file a claim and bring forth an action, you may be barred from damages entirely. Act now.

Call Khan Injury Law Today

At the Khan Injury Law, we are here to help you navigate the waters of maritime law and recover the compensation you deserve. If you are ready to take action, use our online form to schedule your free consultation with our experienced Washington maritime lawyers today. You can also call our offices directly.