In the United States, a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought on behalf of a person who died as the result of the wrongful action or negligence of another person or of a company. Each state in the U.S. has its own law regarding wrongful death, and these laws vary in their details.
Filing a wrongful death suit is not precluded by the bringing of criminal charges against the person or entity responsible for the action or negligence which caused the death. Both actions may be brought against the guilty party.
The standard for proof in the wrongful death action, which is a civil lawsuit, is lower than that required for proving a criminal action. Typically, the civil suits are filed following the conclusion of the criminal trial.
What are the Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Each state has its own set of laws for the requirements of a wrongful death lawsuit. Including different statutes of limitations. However, the states typically will follow the general requirements of:
- A human being died;
- As a result of another’s negligence or intent to cause harm; and
- Survivors of the deceased have suffered monetary loss as a result.
What are Some Typical Causes of Death Leading to Wrongful Death Suits?
There are many different reasons why a person might file a wrongful death lawsuit. Essentially, if the above elements can be fulfilled then a person can file a claim. But these are some of the most common reasons a person filed a wrongful death claim:
- Deaths that are the result of medical malpractice;
- Car accidents (wherein the driver survives and is sued);
- Exposure to hazardous substances or conditions on the job; or
- Murder and other criminal behaviors.
Who May Bring a Lawsuit for Wrongful Death?
Many people can bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of the decedent (the person who has died). People who sue for wrongful death must have had a close personal relationship with the decedent. Most wrongful death suits are brought by the following people:
- Surviving spouse;
- Dependent parent;
- Personal representative or designated heirs;
- Putative spouse;
- Domestic partner; and
- Minor living with the deceased, not necessarily their biological or adoptive child, who depended on the deceased for financial support
In some states, only the personal representative of the deceased will be able to bring a wrongful death action in court. Any money that is then recovered will be placed into a special account or trust to be distributed to the people named above.
What Kind of Damages are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Suit?
The damages you will receive if you are successful in a wrongful death suit will vary quite a bit from case to case and may include:
- Death-related expenses, such as medical and funeral costs (some states consider this a separate issue that must be handled with a separate lawsuit);
- Loss of companionship, also known as loss of consortium;
- Loss of decedent's future earnings; and/or
- Punitive damages if the wrongful conduct was intentional.
Do I Need an Attorney with Experience in Wrongful Death Actions?
If your family member or loved one died because of person's or a company’s intentionally wrongful or negligent behavior, you should consult a local personal injury lawyer. They can help you figure out if your loved one's wrongful death qualifies under your state law, and let you know what steps you should take to recover from their loss.