Wrongful Death Lawsuits: What You Need to Know
March 5 2023
You can file a wrongful death lawsuit through the court system. You will need to consult with an experienced attorney familiar with wrongful death suits who can advise you on the process, necessary paperwork, and help you seek compensation for your loved one’s loss.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a claim filed by the surviving family members of someone who died due to another person’s negligence or intentional act. The wrongful death claim seeks compensation for damages, including costs associated with medical bills and lost wages, as well as pain and suffering caused by the death of a loved one. This type of lawsuit can be brought against both individuals, such as a driver in an auto accident or an employee who caused harm through reckless behavior, and corporations like hospitals or government agencies that may have done something wrong leading to the death.
Wrongful death lawsuits are sometimes criticized for taking advantage of those mourning the loss of a loved one and seeking financial gain from their misfortune. However, it is important to recognize that this type of legal action gives families some sense of justice and closure after experiencing the tragedy of their loved one’s death. In many instances, these lawsuits serve to hold wrongdoers accountable and remind people to be mindful of their actions so as not to cause any more harm to others.
Moreover, filing a wrongful death claim can provide much-needed financial relief for families struggling with sudden loss of income and other costs associated with the death of their loved one. It is also an opportunity for survivors to insure that similar deaths will not occur in the future due to the same negligence or inaction that led up to the wrongful death in question.
The next section will discuss who can file a wrongful death claim, exploring legal remedies available to surviving family members following a tragic loss.
- According to a 2017 study, the average wrongful death settlement was approximately $1.5 million.
- In 2018, a survey found that 47% of wrongful death awards were for pain and suffering damages alone.
- According to a 2016 report by The National Law Review, the highest awarded wrongful death settlement on record was for $144 million.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
When a loved one passes away due to the negligence of another person or entity, those affected by their death may choose to pursue a wrongful death claim. Wrongful death lawsuits can help grieving families seek justice and compensation for the untimely loss of their relative or partner. When deciding whether to initiate such a case, it is important to consider who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In general, only immediate family members are eligible to file a wrongful death claim. This typically includes spouses, parents, and children of the deceased person. In some circumstances, siblings and grandparents may also be allowed to bring suit. Extended family members such as aunts, uncles, and cousins are usually ineligible to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, if the deceased person did not have any living relatives at the time of his or her death (or all living relatives were found to be ineligible), distant family members cannot bring suit on behalf of the deceased.
It is common for family members of the deceased to disagree with each other when deciding whether or not to pursue a wrongful death claim. While some loved ones may believe that seeking justice is most important, others might prioritize healing and closure over monetary compensation. These matters are best discussed together with an experienced attorney and can help family members arrive at an informed decision about what is best for them collectively.
With this in mind, it is important for grieving families to understand their rights before determining who should file a wrongful death claim. In understanding eligibility requirements and investigative processes involved in civil proceedings related to wrongful death cases, next we will discuss the specific eligibility criteria that must be met by family members seeking compensation from responsible parties after the untimely loss of their loved one.
Eligibility Requirements for Family Members
When a wrongful death occurs, the dependents of the deceased may be able to seek financial compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. To determine eligibility for a wrongful death claim, family members must consider certain requirements under the statutes in their jurisdiction. Generally speaking, family members who can file a wrongful death claim include spouses, children, parents or adoptive family members or guardians, and blood relatives depending on the degree of closeness with the deceased. The exact eligibility requirements vary from state to state, so it is essential to consult an experienced attorney to discuss your individual circumstances and determine whether you qualify for damages.
In most states, laws limit who can bring a cause of action based on several aspects such as their relationship with the decedent, age requirements and other factors. For example, many states require that eligible family members are sole dependents who can prove they were financially dependent on the deceased person. Others require that these individuals demonstrate they have suffered an economic loss due to the death of the loved one, either partially (lost support) or totally (lost inheritance). Also, minor children are usually represented in court by their parents or guardians unless there is clear evidence why no one should represent them. While still other jurisdictions limit potential claimants to those who have been immediate family members or those recognized as such under law.
Arguments In Favor: On one hand, eligibility requirements ensure that only immediate survivors have access to benefits when a wrongful death has occurred. This protects legitimate interests of those affected and ensures that awards are provided directly to those close relatives who have outstanding debts or lost financial support due to the victim’s passing.
Arguments Against: Conversely though, strict interpretation of eligibility laws can leave excluding some relationships from being beneficiaries of wrongful death suits even if they had a strong relationship with the deceased person and suffered considerable financial hardship because of his/her death.
Regardless of eligibility requirements for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it is important for family members affected by such tragedy consider all options available to them and consult with experts familiar with local statutes and regulations before taking any steps forward in court proceedings. In the next section we will explore damages available in wrongful death claims.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Claims
Damages available in wrongful death claims will depend on the specific circumstances of the case and the type of legal claim. Generally, wrongful death claims can seek to recover damages for pain and suffering prior to death, medical expenses, lost earnings, and grief and loss on behalf of the deceased victim’s survivors. Depending on the state in which the suit is filed and its particular laws, family members of the deceased may also be able to pursue damages related to funeral costs or punitive damages if it can be proven that the at-fault party acted recklessly or with gross negligence.
When considering a wrongful death lawsuit, it is critical to understand that many states have set limits relating to certain types of damages (i.e., punitive damages), as well as time restrictions in filing such a suit. In addition, each state’s statues may affect what types of damages are retrievable—especially when grandparents, other relatives, or remote family members are eligible claimants. Thus, those considering pursuing a wrongful death claim should consult an experienced wrongful death lawyer to determine the possible recoverable damages that are available under their particular jurisdiction’s laws.
The debate surrounding potential awards made in wrongful death cases often has to do with whether or not non-economic damage (e.g., pain and suffering) should be applicable for grieving family members who are clearly suffering from losing a loved one due to negligence, malpractice or intentional harm done by another person or party . The argument in support of including exemplary damages argues that these payments provide some measure of closure for grieving families, whereas those against additional compensation suggest that juries often take into account intangibles like grief when calculating economic damages for non-economic losses.
However this debate is resolved, both sides agree that financial losses should be appropriately compensated through wrongful death lawsuits. Therefore, it is important to understand the types of financial losses available as part victims of negligent acts. The next section discusses these types of financial losses in more detail.
Types of Financial Losses
In a wrongful death lawsuit, there are two primary types of financial losses that can be pursued: economic losses and non-economic losses. Economic losses consist of out-of-pocket costs associated with the wrongful death, such as lost wages, medical bills, and burial expenses. Non-economic losses refer to things like pain and suffering endured by the deceased before they died, loss of consortium (loss of love, guidance or companionship), or the expected future income of the decedent’s estate.
When it comes to pursuing economic damages, families have the right to seek payment for any and all expenses that have already been paid out due to the wrongful death. On the other hand, when seeking non-economic damages, families should be prepared to present evidence demonstrating how their loved one’s life was impacted by the incident that ultimately caused their death. This evidence can include testimony from friends and family members, corroborating accounts from witnesses who were present at the time of the incident, medical records, or expert opinions from doctors and other medical professionals.
The debate of non-economic damages for wrongful deaths is ongoing in many states across the country. Proponents argue that these types of damages are necessary in order to fully: (1) compensate surviving family members for their loss; (2) hold reckless parties accountable for their actions; and (3) ensure future bad actors will think twice about engaging in risky activities. Opponents claim that such large awards are excessive and could lead to “jackpots” or windfalls that could have negative impacts on tort law reform efforts.
No matter which side you fall on in this debate, families should consider that they may be entitled to different forms of financial compensation after experiencing a wrongful death tragedy. Now let’s move on to discussing who exactly is responsible for wrongful death in these unfortunate cases.
Who is Responsible for Wrongful Death?
When it comes to wrongful death lawsuits, the person or persons responsible for the death of another can be held liable. In order to file a wrongful death lawsuit, there must be a recognized legal relationship between the person who died and the defendant, such as a familial or business connection. The responsible parties could also be employers, medical professionals, property owners, manufacturers of dangerous products, motor vehicle operators and/or other individuals depending on the case.
The main argument in these kinds of cases lies in whether or not someone’s negligence led to the victim’s death. This will involve a thorough legal investigation into all possible factors that resulted in the victim’s passing. Generally speaking, the most important element is to determine if the defendant had an obligation to make reasonable decisions that protected their victims’ safety in regards to any reasonable foreseeable danger they may have posed. If this legal obligation is established during an investigation and was not met properly due to carelessness or neglect (such as failing to adhere to safety standards when operating a vehicle or selling unsafe products) then negligence can be proven – leading to liability for wrongful death.
On the other hand, though rarer than negligence, criminal intent can also lead to a wrongful death case. When someone commits murder or involuntary manslaughter which ultimately leads to someone’s death, they may be found guilty for their wrongful actions and face potential criminal charges. Depending on state laws, these actions can also pave the way for families of the deceased who wish to file a wrongful death civil lawsuit against them.
Now that we have outlined who can potentially be held accountable for wrongful death, let’s move on to discuss what implications statute of limitations might have in cases of this nature in our next section.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death
Understanding the statue of limitations for wrongful death is a critical part of filing a claim. In most cases, claimants must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the deceased’s passing – this time frame is called a “statute of limitations.” This deadline will differ from state to state and by type of case. It is essential to consult with an experienced attorney who can advise on the specific laws in your jurisdiction as soon as possible in order to determine if you have a valid claim and how much time you have remaining to pursue it.
However, there are certain exceptions where the statute of limitations may be extended or even paused. One example is when the decedent’s cause of death is undetermined at the time that it took place – the statute of limitations would not begin until it was identified. Similarly, there are some circumstances where minors or other legal dependents are unable to bring suit due to their age or lack of capacity, which would delay any statute of limitation until they reach the appropriate age or level of legal competency.
In addition, many states offer what’s known as “tolling benefits” when individuals are filing cases on behalf of mentally disabled family members. These benefits allow them more time to build their case before formally notifying responsible parties that they intend to sue.
It is important to note that statutes of limitation exist so that evidence is still available, memories are still fresh, and witnesses can be identified if necessary. Filing a suit after the statute has expired could mean losing out on important evidence or potential witnesses which could drastically reduce chances for success; however, consulting with an experienced attorney can provide clarity and options for avoiding missing out on key elements for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Now that we have reviewed the information about Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death lawsuits, let’s explore what it means to seek legal representation for such cases in our next section.
Seeking Legal Representation for Wrongful Death
For any type of wrongful death lawsuit, it is almost always advised to seek legal representation. The most common reason for this is because wrongful death lawsuits are often highly complex, with intricate laws that can be easily overlooked or misunderstood without a lawyer’s guidance.
The first step in choosing legal representation is determining the right kind of lawyer. In cases of wrongful death, a litigator, who specializes in litigation and trials, is the best choice. A litigator’s job is to review the case and present evidence in court to try to establish that another party was responsible for the wrongful death. They also work closely with experts in order to make sense of the facts surrounding the accident in question.
In some cases, families may choose to settle out of court rather than pursue a trial. Settling out of court means an agreement between both parties that determines how much money will be paid by the liable party to cover medical expenses associated with the death, last income from employment, and other related costs such as lost benefits and funeral services. Although settling outside of court may be less time-consuming than going through a trial, it could mean that you receive less money than if you had gone through legal proceedings. Therefore, having experienced legal representation is important if you decide to go this route so that you understand what your rights are and ensure that you don’t receive an unfair settlement amount.
In addition to choosing experienced representation, it is important to research any potential lawyers prior to hiring them. Make sure they have experience specifically with handling wrongful death lawsuits and ask if they have won any similar cases recently. Researching reviews online can also give you a better idea wanted kind of service they offer their clients.
Overall, seeking legal representation for a wrongful death case can be incredibly important — not only for the chances of success but also for protection against questionable settlements or misunderstandings about applicable laws or rights. It is essential for families affected by a wrongful death to take their case seriously and choose appropriate representation so as not to be taken advantage of during a difficult time.
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
What damages are recoverable through a wrongful death lawsuit?
Damages that can be recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit are typically financial in nature and intended to provide compensation for the grieving family. These damages may include compensation for medical and funeral expenses, loss of income, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. When calculating these damages, factors such as the victim’s age and life expectancy, current and future economic prospects, and child care costs may be taken into consideration. In some cases, punitive damages — intended to punish the defendant — may also be awarded.
What is the statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit?
The statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state. In general, most states have a two year statute of limitations for wrongful death claims, though some may be longer or shorter depending on the individual state’s laws. In addition, certain situations such as minors or cases involving intentional or malicious acts may allow for more time to file the lawsuit. It is important to note that, in most cases, it is best to seek legal advice as soon as possible since statutes of limitations can change and there often is only a short window in which to file a claim.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Anyone who was a close relative of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit, including spouses, parents, children, and sometimes siblings or grandparents. In some cases, other dependents—like step-children and putative spouses—may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit as well.
The reason these people are allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit is because of the financial or emotional losses they suffered due to their loved ones passing away. It’s very common for survivors to endure costly medical expenses related to the deceased’s final illness or accident. They may also be entitled to lost wages or benefits that the deceased would have provided. Additionally, family members often grieve deeply when someone close to them dies unexpectedly or due to another party’s negligence. Wrongful death lawsuits allow them to seek justice and potentially receive justice in civil court.