Wrongful death cases are unfortunate claims that you may not understand completely. This is a claim that happens when someone dies due to the fault of another person or entity because of negligence or intentional harm. The suit is often times filed by a representative of the estate on behalf of the surviving family members and other affected parties.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim happens when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person. Common law didn’t allow for this type of lawsuit, however, during the last century, state and federal courts created the right to bring a wrongful death action into court.
Wrongful death claims involve all types of fatal accidents such as car accidents, medical malpractice or even product liability cases. Persons, companies and governmental agencies can be legally at fault for acting negligently and for acting intentionally.
What Must Be Proven?
For a wrongful death claim to be valid, the plaintiff in the claim for the deceased victim must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet had the victim lived. Using negligence as an example, this means showing that the defendant owed the victim duty was a direct and proximate cause of death and that the death caused the damages the plaintiff is trying to recover.
Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?
A representative on behalf of the survivors who suffer damage from the descendant’s death must file a wrongful death suit. The representative, who is also referred to as the real party, is usually the executor of the decedent’s estate. The real parties in interest vary from state to state. This may include:
- Immediate family members. In all states, immediate family member means spouses, children, adopted children and parents of unmarried children.
- Distant family members. Some states allow more distant family members, such as brothers, sisters and grandparents, to bring wrongful death suits. For example, a grandparent who is raising a child may be able to bring an action.
- Life partners, financial dependents, putative spouses. In some states, a domestic or life partner, anyone who was financially dependent on the decedent, and a putative spouse (someone who had a good faith belief that he/she was married to the victim) have a right to recovery.
- All persons who suffer financially. In some states they allow all persons who suffer financially from a wrongful death to bring a wrongful death action for lost care or support, even if they are not related by blood or marriage to the victim.
- Parents of deceased fetus. In some states, the death of a fetus can be the basis for a wrongful death claim. In several other states, parents cannot bring a wrongful death action to recover for financial and emotional losses resulting from the death of a fetus. In those states, the parents can bring a wrongful death action only if the child was born alive and then died. You should check with a wrongful death attorney to see if the action is allowed in your state.
Who May Be Sued for a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death lawsuits can be against a variety of persons, companies, government agencies and employees. A good example is in a car accident involving a faulty roadway and a drunk driver; a wrongful death action might include defendants such as:
- The driver or employer at fault in the automobile accident
- A government agent who failed to provide adequate warnings regarding a road hazard that caused the accident
- The designer or builder of the faulty roadway
- The persons who sold, served, or gave alcohol to the impaired driver
- The manufacturer, distributor or installer of a faulty or dangerous part of the vehicle
- The owner of the premises where the alcohol was served
Types of Damages
There are three types of damages that may be available to survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Economic damages. This includes the value of the financial contributions the victim would have made to the survivors if he/she didn’t die. This includes medical and funeral expenses connected to the death, loss of the victim’s expected earnings, the value of the goods and services that a victim would have provided, etc.
- Non-economic damages. Although less realistic, non-economic damages often have more value than economic damages. This type of damage includes damages for the survivor’s mental anguish or pain and suffering, loss of the care, protection, guidance, advice, training and nurturing from the deceased, etc.
- Punitive damages. These damages are awarded to punish the defendant for especially bad conduct. In many states these are not available in wrongful death lawsuits or not recoverable against certain defendants including most governmental agencies. However, treble damages may often be recovered against nursing homes for elder abuse and death.
Because wrongful death actions often involve complex areas of the law and can result in large damage awards, it is often wise to hire or at least consult, with a lawyer. They will help guide you as to what you may qualify for in damages. At Balkin Law, we help fight for your rights to receive the compensation you deserve. Visit our site at hirethebull.com for more information or call us at 1-800-THE-BULL.