A wrongful death lawsuit may be brought by certain surviving family members or the estate of a person whose death was caused by another person’s negligence or intentional wrongful action. It is an action that seeks to recover damages.
Wrongful death lawsuits may name the liable party, the defendant in legal terminology, not only individuals but also corporations, manufacturers, government agencies, or any other entity whose negligence or intentional wrongful conduct has caused a victim’s death.
Wrongful death lawsuits may name as the liable party, the defendant in legal terminology, not only individuals, but also corporations, manufacturers, government agencies, or any other entity whose negligence or intentionally wrongful conduct have caused a victim’s death.
The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to compensate the surviving beneficiaries or family members for their economic and non-economic losses. Usually, the person who brings the suit would sue to recover compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages would provide compensation for the following economic damages:
- Medical Care: All of the necessary medical care that the victim may have received before they passed away;
- Funeral costs;
- Lifetime Income: The loss of the victim’s lifetime income;
- Other Losses: Other losses directly related to the event that led to the victim’s death, e.g., property damage, that can be quantified.
Non-economic damages may include loss of that person’s companionship, pain and suffering, punitive damages, or other related civil damages.
What Are Common Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Because wrongful death lawsuits involve the negligent or intentional wrongful actions of another party, wrongful death lawsuits may involve various situations and possibly numerous parties. Common wrongful death claims include:
- Car Accidents: Fatal car accidents;
- Medical Malpractice: Medical malpractice that results in the death of a patient caused by substandard medical treatment;
- Defective Products: Deaths caused by defective products;
Wrongful death lawsuits may also be brought based on the criminal conduct of an individual or business entity, as well as other intentional tortious acts.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
As mentioned above, the person who most often files a wrongful death claim is the spouse or child of the deceased person. However, wrongful death claims may also be filed by any of the following people:
- Partners: The partners of the victim, including life partners, putative spouses, domestic partners, or common law spouses;
- Siblings: Siblings of the deceased person;
- Grandparents: Grandparents of the deceased; or
- Others: Any other individual who has suffered financial harm due to the person’s wrongful death.
What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, the representative of the deceased’s estate must prove the following elements:
- Duty of Care: A person or entity owed a duty of care to the victim;
- Negligence or Intentional Tort: The person acted negligently or engaged in a wrongful intentional act in breach of their duty of care;
- Direct Cause: The victim died as a direct result of the person’s negligence or wrongfully intentional act;
- Damages: A surviving family member or other eligible individual suffered economic and non-economic losses because of the death.
Proving these elements of a wrongful death claim often requires hiring an accident reconstructionist and possibly other expert witnesses. An expert witness may be needed to prove the negligence of the defendant.
For example, if the wrongful death claim is based on medical malpractice, the person who brings the suit would need a medical expert to testify about how the care provided by the medical professional who has been sued was negligent.
Then, when proving damages, an expert economist may also be needed to calculate the present and future lost wages and other economic losses of the person who brings the claim.
How Do You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
As noted above, a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil suit. This means that to file a wrongful death lawsuit, a person must follow their state’s rules regarding local jurisdiction.
It is important to note that there is a statute of limitations, or a time limit, in which a person must bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If the time limit is missed, a court will dismiss the lawsuit because it was not filed promptly.
Often, the deadline to file a wrongful death lawsuit begins from the time of the victim’s death unless the cause of death or person responsible is not apparent. In such cases, the statute typically begins to run when a reasonable person would have discovered the reason for the death of the person and the responsible party.
Some common statutes of limitations are listed below, but courts may allow for exceptions depending on the circumstances of the death:
- California: Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed no more than two years from the date of the deceased person’s passing;
- Texas: Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the deceased person’s death;
- Florida: Wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within two years of the date of death;
- New York: Wrongful death lawsuit must be commenced within two years of the date of the deceased person’s death; and
- Illinois: Wrongful death lawsuits must be brought within two years of the date of death.
If it has been less than two years since the date of death, or the person meets one of the state’s exceptions to the statute of limitations, then they should draft and file a complaint against the defendant with the clerk of the court in which the person has decided to file their complaint.
After filing the complaint, the next step is to legally notify the person or business named as the defendant in the complaint. Once the lawsuit has been filed, the person typically then begins with civil discovery, settlement negotiations, and finally appears in court for trial, if necessary.
What If My Family Member Suffered Their Fatal Injury at Work?
In most states, if a person is involved in a fatal injury while on the job, their spouse and designated descendants are entitled to claim benefits from their state’s worker’s compensation system on behalf of the victim. Death benefits can help compensate dependent family members for their losses because of losing a spouse or parent.
Worker’s compensation laws vary from state to state. For example, if an employee dies on the job in Missouri, their employer must report the accident to the Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation within 30 days. Once this report is made, the victim’s descendants can file a death benefits claim.
The spouse of the victim must prove the following to succeed with their claim:
- On the Job: Proof that the victim was on the job when the accident took place;
- Financial Loss: Evidence of surviving descendants financial loss because of the victim’s death
- Proof of Death: Proof of death, such as an autopsy report or death certificate
- Proof of Right to File Claim: Evidence that supports the person’s right to file a claim on behalf of the victim.
Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If your loved one has died due to the actions of another party, you want to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney immediately.
An experienced wrongful death attorney can analyze the facts and help you evaluate your claim, ensure that you meet any deadlines, and help you file your claim against the responsible party. They can also represent you in a court of law if necessary.