Wrongful death is a lawsuit brought by a family member of the deceased victim against the person who caused the death. As long as the injuries inflicted upon the victim cause the death, wrongful death can be a valid claim. For example, if the victim was hospitalized for months from their injuries, then passes away, the ones who caused the injuries can still be liable.
Generally, immediate family members of the person who died (the "decedent") can sue for wrongful death. Typically this includes only the spouses, children and parents of the decedent. Some states, however may allow grandparents, extended family members, or other legal dependents to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
Persons who have a reasonable expectation of becoming a spouse, fiancées or domestic partners, may also bring suit in certain jurisdictions.
A dependent or beneficiary who is a minor under 18 years old can bring a wrongful death claim against a defendant, but a court may require an adult known as a guardian ad litem to represent the minor’s interest in court.
The legal definition of “person” includes human fetuses, so in some states the would-be parents of a deceased fetus may bring suit (all abortion laws contain a provision restricting liability for the mother). In other states though, the child must actually be born for wrongful death to apply.
As mentioned above, any accident which causes death can lead to a wrongful death suit. Common causes of death in personal injury are:
- Defective products, including drugs
- Medical malpractice
- Vehicle accidents, including automobiles, public transportation, and drunk driving
- Drowning due to negligence
- Criminal activity is also subject to civil law lawsuits
A person cannot sue another family member for wrongful death. Government officials involved in the death may also be immune from any lawsuits depending on the circumstances.
As an extension of personal injury law, wrongful death uses the same defenses as any personal injury case:
- Defendant was not responsible for victim
- Defendant was acting with all due care
- Defendant did not cause the death
- Victim caused his own death through negligence
- Victim knew the risks involved
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 limitations deadlines for wrongful death actions 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.