Wrongful Death Claims vs. Survival Action Claims

When a person loses their life due to the negligent, intentional, or careless actions of another individual or entity, their surviving family members may be able to recover compensation for their losses. This is known as a wrongful death claim. However, the estate of the deceased can file a survival action against the at-fault party to recover compensation that the decedent would have been able to recover as a result of the wrongful act had they lived.

What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death Claims and Survival Action Claims?

Wrongful death lawsuits in Washington are filed by the estate of the deceased, sometimes referred to as the executor. Compensation for a survival case goes to the estate and the surviving family members of the deceased (RCW 4.20.010).

Under the wrongful death statute, plaintiffs are allowed to recover various types of compensation through a wrongful death claim, but only compensation that is directly related to the circumstances of the case. This can include compensation for the following:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of household services the deceased would have provided had they survived
  • Loss of consortium or sexual companionship for a spouse or partner
  • Loss of companionship, love, assistance, protection, moral support, and society the deceased would have provided their family
  • Loss of future income and inheritance the deceased would have been able to provide for their family had they lived

Survival actions are a bit different than wrongful death claims. Perhaps the best way to think about a survival action is that this case allows a personal representative of the deceased (typically the executor of the estate) to assume the legal rights the deceased would have had had they survived. In other words, survival actions allow the estate to recover compensation the deceased would have been able to secure on their own through a lawsuit or claim against the at-fault party.

Survival actions are only available in situations where the deceased survived for an amount of time after the initial incident that ultimately resulted in their death (RCW 4.20.046), though this can be a relatively short period of time to satisfy the requirements. A Seattle wrongful death attorney understands that the damages recoverable in these situations are the types of compensation that would have been obtained by the deceased for their successful claim. This can include:

  • Medical bills associated with the incident
  • Physical pain and suffering the deceased endured
  • Lost wages resulting from the inability to work
  • Possible punitive damages against the at-fault party

Wrongful death claims must be filed within three years after the death of the deceased. Survival actions can be brought up to three years after the injury incident that ultimately led to the death of the deceased. Please note that survival action filing deadlines are three years from when the incident occurred, not from the date of death.

Are Separate Lawsuits Required?

Wrongful death and survival action claims in Washington can either be brought separately or combined into a single civil lawsuit. Regardless of whether or not the wrongful death and survival claims are in the same lawsuit, it is critical to remember that these are two separate causes of action. There are different requirements for each type of claim, including who is allowed to file each.