While taking legal action may not be a priority for those who have lost a loved one, it is important for survivors of the decedent to consider retaining a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.
In addition to the significant emotional trauma of having a loved one pass away, families may also face considerable financial difficulties without the support of the deceased. The compensation provided by a wrongful death lawsuit can help ease this financial burden.
However, there is a time limit for submitting a wrongful death claim. This time limit is called the statute of limitations, and may differ from state to state and each type of lawsuit. Once this time period expires, the courts no longer have the jurisdiction to punish violators and offer compensation to victims, and lawsuits may no longer be filed (except under certain circumstances).
If you have lost a loved one unexpectedly, fill out our free, no-obligation case review form today to see if one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys can help.
Wrongful Death Definition
Wrongful death claims are civil actions made by the survivors of an individual who has passed away due to the negligence or misconduct of another. In these cases, the law allows the family members of the decedent (called “distributees”) to file a wrongful death suit seeking monetary damages. The wrongful death action is designed to provide compensation for relatives who depended upon the deceased for financial and emotional support.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death occurs when negligence, recklessness, or deliberate behavior results in a fatality. Negligence refers to the failure of an individual to behave how a reasonably prudent person would have acted under similar circumstances. To establish that a wrongful death occurred, an attorney must prove that the individual had a duty of care to the deceased, their act or omission breached that standard of care, their wrongful actions were the proximate (direct) cause of the injury or death of the decedent, and damages resulted.
Some of the most common causes of wrongful death include:
- Car accidents
- Birth injuries
- Truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Workplace accidents
Wrongful Death Damages
The court will consider a number of factors when determining the amount of damages to be awarded to the survivors of the deceased. These factors include the relationship between the survivor and the deceased, the amount of the deceased’s net income available to the survivor, the replacement value of the deceased’s services, and the life expectancy of all parties. As described below, an individual’s relationship to the decedent may entitle them to certain benefits.
Spouse: A surviving spouse may recover compensation for the loss of the decedent’s companionship and protection and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
Children: Minor children may seek compensation for lost parental companionship, instruction, and guidance and for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury.
Parent: Each parent of a deceased minor child may recover compensation for mental pain and suffering from the date of injury. Each parent of an adult child may also recover compensation for mental pain and suffering if there are no other survivors.
All: Each survivor may recover the value of lost support and services from the date of the decedent’s injury to her or his death, with interest, and future loss of support and services from the date of death, reduced to present value. In addition, medical or funeral expenses due to the decedent’s injury or death may be recovered by the survivor who has paid them.
In addition to the aforementioned compensatory damages, a court may also choose to impose punitive damages. Punitive damages are appropriate in situations where a party’s intentional, reckless, or grossly negligent actions result in a wrongful death. These damages serve to punish the offending party, as well as discourage others from behaving similarly in the future.
To learn more about your legal options following an unexpected death, contact us today by filling out our free, no-obligation case review form.