Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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 What Is Considered to Be a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death is deemed to occur when an individual dies as a direct result of the negligence, misconduct, or intentional act of another person or entity. Unlike criminal charges, which are brought by the state and may result in penalties like imprisonment, wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions filed by survivors or the estate to obtain monetary damages.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Wrongful Death?

The most common causes of wrongful death include car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, product malfunctions, and criminal actions such as murder.

What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Case?

For a successful wrongful death claim, several elements must be proven:

  • Death: An individual died.
  • Negligence: The death was caused either wholly or in part by the defendant’s neglect or intent to harm.
  • Survivors: The deceased person has immediate family members, such as spouses, children, or dependents, who have suffered monetary injury due to the death.
  • Representation: The deceased person’s estate is represented by an appointee.

Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Typically, the deceased person’s immediate family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit. This often includes spouses, children, and parents.

Depending on the jurisdiction, other family members, like siblings or grandparents, might also have the right to file. The deceased person’s estate representative can also bring forth such a lawsuit.

Is There Anyone Who Cannot Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

Some entities, such as government agencies and their employees, may have immunity against wrongful death lawsuits under specific circumstances. The rules differ by jurisdiction and specific circumstances.

Governmental immunity, also referred to as “sovereign immunity,” is a principle that originally held that the government cannot be sued unless it consents to the lawsuit. This was based on the old English maxim, “The King can do no wrong.” Over time, however, many jurisdictions have relaxed or modified this principle to allow for lawsuits under certain conditions, especially when public interest is at stake.

Here are some circumstances and nuances regarding governmental immunity in wrongful death lawsuits.

Statutory Waivers

Most jurisdictions have statutes that waive the government’s immunity to certain types of lawsuits. These statutes may specify the types of cases and the conditions under which the government can be sued and even cap the amount of damages that can be awarded.

Discretionary Acts

Government agencies and their employees often retain immunity when performing discretionary functions. This means actions or decisions based on personal judgment or choice. For example, a city might not be liable for deciding where to place stop signs or how often to patrol certain areas, even if someone argues that a different decision could have prevented a death.

Ministerial Acts

These are actions that a government employee must perform under a specific mandate without any personal judgment. If a government worker fails to perform such a duty which directly results in a death, the government might be liable. For instance, if a city ordinance mandates the inspection of all bridges every five years and this is neglected, leading to a bridge collapse and death, there might be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.

Public Transportation

In many jurisdictions, governmental immunity might not protect agencies in cases where public vehicles, like buses or trains, are involved in fatal accidents due to negligence.

Notice Requirements

Before suing the government, plaintiffs might be required to provide a formal notice within a short time frame detailing the intent to sue, the basis for the claim, and the damages sought. Failing to meet these strict notification requirements can result in the lawsuit being dismissed.

Damage Caps

Even if a government entity is found liable in a wrongful death case, there might be a statutory cap on the damages that can be awarded. This cap might be significantly lower than what might be awarded in a lawsuit against a private entity.


There are certain situations where the government retains full immunity. This might include wartime or combatant activities, certain fiscal operations, and legislative or judicial actions. The principle of governmental immunity and its exceptions can be intricate and highly nuanced.

These specifics vary widely by jurisdiction, and the interpretation of these rules can change based on case law and legislative amendments. If considering a wrongful death suit against a government entity, consult with an attorney familiar with your jurisdiction’s laws and precedents.

How Do You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Initiating a wrongful death lawsuit involves:

  • Consulting with a lawyer.
  • Investigating the circumstances surrounding the death to gather evidence of negligence.
  • Filing a complaint against the defendant, which outlines the basis for the lawsuit and seeks specific damages.
  • Going through pre-trial proceedings, which may include discovery, where both sides share evidence.
  • Potentially negotiate a settlement or proceed to trial if both sides cannot agree.

What Are Some Common Damages Awarded In a Wrongful Death Suit?

Damages can cover a wide range. We will go over each below.

Lost Wages and Potential Future Earnings of the Deceased

This represents the earnings the deceased person would have made had they lived a full life. This amount is calculated based on the deceased’s age, career, skill set, and potential for future promotions or salary increments. To recover this, claimants often need to provide evidence of the deceased’s salary, job stability, career trajectory, and any potential future income, such as educational qualifications or specialized skills.

Medical Expenses Before Death

These are the costs incurred for medical treatment, hospitalization, and any other healthcare the deceased may have received due to the incident leading to their death. To claim these damages, family members or estate representatives must produce medical bills, doctor’s notes, hospital records, and other relevant documentation detailing the medical expenses related to the event or injury.

Funeral and Burial Expenses

The cost associated with the deceased’s funeral, burial, or cremation falls under this category. To be compensated for these damages, claimants typically must present itemized bills from funeral homes, cemeteries, or crematoriums detailing all expenses related to the deceased’s final arrangements.

Loss of Companionship and Emotional Support

This is non-economic damage meant to compensate close family members for the loss of love, care, protection, guidance, and companionship they would have received had the deceased survived. It’s often harder to quantify than economic damages. Testimonies from family members, friends, and even psychologists or therapists may be required to illustrate the depth and nature of the relationship and the magnitude of the loss.

Pain and Suffering Experienced by Survivors Due to the Loss

This compensates the survivors for the emotional distress and trauma they experience as a result of losing their loved one. This can include grief, anxiety, depression, and other emotional hardships. The intensity, duration, and manifestations of these feelings can vary widely among survivors.

Establishing a claim for these damages might involve personal testimonies and expert opinions from psychologists, therapists, or counselors who can attest to the emotional toll on the survivors.

In all cases, the claimant must establish the value or extent of the damages and the direct causal link between the defendant’s wrongful action (or inaction) and the damages incurred.

Are There Any Defenses That May Be Raised Against a Wrongful Death Suit?

Defendants might raise several defenses to wrongful death, including:

  • Arguing that they were not negligent.
  • Claiming the deceased was at fault or contributed to their own death.
  • Asserting that the statute of limitations for wrongful death has expired.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death lawsuits can be challenging. An experienced attorney can help gather evidence, advocate, and ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

If you believe your loved one’s death was due to another’s negligence, consider reaching out to a wrongful death lawyer through LegalMatch for guidance and representation.

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