Wrongful Death Cases

When one party’s negligent or intentional actions cause the death of another person, this party may be held civilly liable for the death. This may result in the victim’s family receiving compensation for the economic and non-economic damages that they and the victim suffered.

What A Wrongful Death Is

A wrongful death occurs when a victim dies due to the negligence of another party or due to his or her wrongdoing. Wrongful death laws are based on a state’s statutes or common law. Each state specifies which parties are able to recover due to a wrongful death. This usually includes the surviving spouse and any children who are dependent on the child. The victim’s personal representative is sometimes the named party in the lawsuit who files the claim on behalf of the victim or the victim’s family. 

Reason for Wrongful Death Claims

Sometimes a person dies but the person who is responsible for the death did not actually commit a crime such as murder or assault. Nonetheless, the family must cope with the economic loss of not having the individual’s income, support and benefits. Additionally, the family undergoes significant stress and mental anguish due to the loss of the loved one. The law recognizes a right to recovery in these circumstances and allows the family to pursue compensation to help them deal with the financial burdens realized through the loss of a loved one.

Additionally, a wrongful death claim can make a party accountable for causing the death of a loved one. This helps the family receive some sort of justice. 

Common Causes of Wrongful Death

There are many causes for when wrongful death claims may arise. These include: 

Car Accidents

A person can be held liable for the death of another when he or she drinks and drives, speeds, disobeys traffic laws, texts and drives or completes another act or omission that causes the death of another. 

Medical Malpractice

When a healthcare provider fails to provide medical treatment with the appropriate standard of care, a wrongful death case may ensue. 

Workplace Accidents

In some cases, an employer can be held responsible when a worker dies in a work-related accident. In other cases, the family’s recovery is limited to benefits available through the workers’ compensation program.

Slip and Fall Accidents

Individuals who are on business property or public property may slip and fall. In rare instances, this may result in a person’s death. Customers and public invitees are often owed a higher duty of care than other persons on a property. When they fail to adhere to the appropriate duty of care, they may be held liable for negligence.

Defective Products

Parties can be held liable if their drugs, medical devices or other products cause the death of someone. 

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

Each state has a statute of limitations regarding when a wrongful death claim can be filed. For many states, this time limit is three years from the date of death. Some states start the clock from the date of the injury instead of the date of death, effectively shortening the time limit in which a party can bring forth a wrongful death claim. Some states have shorter statutes of limitations for wrongful death claims or specific types of wrongful death claims such as medical malpractice or claims in which the government is being held responsible. 

State laws determine who can bring forth such a claim, which is usually precluded for anyone other than a survivor or legal representative. A spouse or child of the decedent or other individual who has been named the administrator of the estate usually brings forth the case.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

The types of compensation that the plaintiff can recover vary by each case. The individual circumstances determine which types of damages may be compensable. However, lost income and benefits are often compensable, amounting to damages for the income that the individual would have received had he or she not died ahead of his or her life expectancy. To determine the amount of these damages, the court or insurance adjuster can consider a number of factors, including the age of the decedent, his or her education, his or her job title, his or her record of promotion and his or her earning records. Additional damages include medical expenses, funeral expenses, burial expenses, pain and suffering, loss of consortium and punitive damages. A personal injury lawyer can help explain what type of damages may be available in the particular circumstance.