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Can You Bring A NIED Claim If You Are a Bystander and Not Married to the Victim?

The wrongful death statute, RCW 4.20.020, describes the potential beneficiaries of a Washington wrongful death action:

Every such action shall be for the benefit of the wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, child or children, including stepchildren, of the person whose death shall have been so caused. If there be no wife, husband, state registered domestic partner, or such child or children, such action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters, or brothers, who may be dependent upon the deceased person for support, and who are resident within the United States at the time of his or her death.

It does not include unmarried "loved ones" who are not related to the victim. The Washington Supreme Court requires that a bystander be a "relative" or "family member" of the victim in order to bring a wrongful death claim as a beneficiary. Despite challenges by lawyers on expanding the scope of who qualifies as a beneficiary to bring such claims, Washington courts have refused to broaden this class of people. In Percival v. General Electric Co., 708 F.Supp.2d 1171 (W.D.Wa. 2012), Judge Lasnik concluded that the victim's grandchildren (who had watched their grandmother burn to death) could assert bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED") claims. So far, this is as "broad" as it gets.

With the increase in police shootings and use of excessive force, even if you were to witness your loved one die in your arms--and you're unmarried--you're out of luck on bringing a bystander NIED claim in Washington. Engaged couples under the law are considered unmarried.

If you have any questions on what your civil rights are, contact AKW Law at or (425) 954-3512.

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