Wrongful death is the legal term applied to a matter where someone has died through the fault of another person or entity (such as the manufacturer or a product). In these cases the survivors of the deceased person may be able to recover damages from the responsible party or parties. These damages may include the deceased person’s lost wages, loss of companionship, funeral expenses, and others. This article will serve as a primer on what wrongful death is, who can sue and for what, who can be sued, and what damages can be recovered.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim can be brought by the survivors of a deceased person and other interested parties against the person or persons who may have caused that death. Every state has a wrongful death law.
A wrongful death can be caused by a wide variety of reasons to be entitled to recovery, from simple accidents to more complicated events such as product liability and medical malpractice. Those who could cause a wrongful death might be held responsible whether they acted intentionally or negligently.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim can be brought on behalf of those who have suffered loss as a result of the decedent’s death. These usually include family members such as a spouse and children of the decedent, but more recently have expanded to include others such as life partners, financial dependents, and common law spouses. Depending on the state in question, each siblings, grandparents, and others who suffer financially, even if there is no relationship by blood or marriage.
Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against practically anyone who, directly or indirectly, had something to do with the death of a person. If, for example, a person who during working hours stopped to have an alcoholic drink, becomes intoxicated, and ended up being killed on the roadway after he left, his survivors might have recourse against the following in a wrongful death lawsuit:
* Another driver responsible for the accident.
* The designer and builder of the roadway.
* The government agency who might not have installed adequate signage that might have prevented the accident.
* Those who had input on the design and manufacturing of the vehicle.
* The owner of the establishment who served the alcohol.
Who Might Be Held Immune From Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Some agencies and their agents might be held immune from pursuit for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. These guidelines vary from state to state.
What Damages Might Survivors Be Entitled To?
There are three types of damages that may be awarded to survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit. These are:
Compensatory Damages. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate survivors for the monies they were denied due to the death of the decedent. This includes the loss of income, medical and funeral expenses, loss of pension plans and other benefits, and the value of goods and services that the decedent would have expected to provide.
Punitive Damages. Punitive damages are awarded to the survivors of the decedent in order to punish the offending party for their part in causing the death of the victim.
Interest and Attorneys’ Fees. Some states allow for those suing another party for the interest accrued on damages from the time they were incurred to the time they were awarded. Oftentimes, attorneys’ fees and expenses are also awarded to the survivors.
How Much Can I Expect to Get From My Lawsuit?
The process for determining the amount that is finally determined to be appropriate for a person’s wrongful death claim is complicated, tricky, and very time consuming. This is mainly due to the fact that so many elements involved in the determination are unknown and based solely on estimates from economists and actuaries. Beyond this there are a whole host of other expenses that must be included that are only estimates at best.
Statutes of Limitations for Filing a Lawsuit
The amount of time after an action has taken place before a lawsuit must be filed is called the Statute of Limitations. Every state has their own statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits. It is for this reason that it is in everyone’s best interests to file a lawsuit as soon as possible after an incident has occurred to prevent that clock from running out. On the other hand, time often has a way of benefiting those who want to accurately estimate losses and other factors. An attorney is the best person to advise you on how you should handle your case and its timing.
How Can I Find a Good Wrongful Death Attorney?
There are no “majors” in law school. When an attorney is graduated from law school he or she is simply an attorney, with specialties determined after years of experience in the type of law they wish to practice. In many cases, attorneys will want to represent your case and because they are attorneys they are able to do so. This does not mean, however, that they are just as qualified to handle your case as another.
When you select an attorney to handle your case, you should select a person who has demonstrated that they are indeed experienced at handling wrongful death cases, and have a record of earning their clients fair awards for their lawsuits. How do you get this type of information? Ask. Most attorneys who are qualified in their particular area of the law will tell you what kinds of cases they handle, and will often even provide you with happy clients to speak with. Regardless, you should make sure that your wrongful death attorney is someone you feel confident with. In the long run this is the best determiner of all.