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Bringing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

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What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim can be brought when someone dies because of a negligent or wrongful action of another. A wrongful death suit may be brought by the surviving beneficiaries or dependents of a deceased victim. This typically includes the victim's spouse and children. Wrongful death lawsuits seek monetary compensation for the survivor’s loss such as loss of companionship, funeral costs, and future lost wages of the deceased.

Wrongful death claims often involve deadly accidents that occur as a result of car accidents, medical malpractice, negligence of a person which causes the death of another, or a death that occurs from a manufacturer’s defective products.

What Are Some Common Wrongful Death Claims?

A wrongful death claim may arise out of a number of different situations:

When Must a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Filed?

Each state has its own statute of limitations within which the wrongful death lawsuit must be filed: 

  • California: 2 years
  • Florida: 2 years
  • Illinois: 2 years
  • New York: 2 years
  • Texas: 2 years

The deadline starts to run from the time of the victim's death, but occasionally, if the cause of death is not discovered until later, a court may allow the statute of limitations to being running from the date of discovery. This is called Tolling the Statute of Limitations.

Who Can Sue in a Wrongful Death Claim?

In wrongful death suit, the representative of the estate who has suffered some type of damage as a result of the descendant’s death must file the claim.  These people include:

  • Immediate family members such as spouse, children, parents of child
  • Spouses, domestic partners, life partners, putative spouses
  • Brothers, sisters, grandparents
  • Any person that has suffered financially as a result of the death

What Are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the survivors bring a claim that the victim's death was a result of the defendant's conduct. In order to prevail on a wrongful death claim, the survivors must show: 

  • That the victims death was caused by the defendant
  • The defendant intentionally, recklessly or negligently caused the victim's death, or that the defendant was strictly liable for the victim's death
  • There are surviving beneficiaries or dependents
  • The victim's death has caused monetary damages to the surviving beneficiaries or dependents

What Damages Are Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Claim?

The types of damages that are recoverable by the proper parties bringing a wrongful death claim may be:

  • Pecuniary Loss: Loss of income, loss of guidance, loss of earning capacity, loss of potential future earnings
  • Financial Loss: Any loss incurred by the surviving parties in bringing the claim or directly as result of the death
  • Punitive Damages: If the case was malicious or intentional, the court may allow parties to recover punitive damages
  • Pain and Suffering Damages

The damage awards in a wrongful death action belong to the estate of the decedent and may pass to different parties depending on the decedent's will.

Should You Hire a Lawyer Experienced in Wrongful Death Matters?

 If your loved one died due to the actions of another, you should speak to a personal injury lawyer immediately to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies. The statute of limitation deadlines are strict, and a valid claim may be denied if the lawsuit is brought even one day late. A lawyer will be able to explain the value of your case and help you navigate through the complicated legal process. 

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-28-2015 04:56 PM PDT

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