Accident victims can decide to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages. But what happens in a fatal crash? Then, a surviving family member can pursue a wrongful death claim from those responsible for the accident.
This piece explains what a wrong death lawsuit entails, the individual eligible for this case, and the damages available.
What Wrongful Death Entails
Wrongful death happens when an individual or organization fails to execute a legal responsibility, leading to an avoidable death. The surviving family members of the deceased or their personal representative can institute a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party.
The plaintiff must prove the following three points to recover compensation:
- An individual or entity acted negligently or intentionally committed a wrongful act
- Their actions directly led to the fatality
- The death caused some damages
The at-fault party or their insurer could offer a settlement if the surviving relatives or the deceased’s estate can prove these elements. But a court will award compensation if the issue proceeds to a lawsuit.
The Nexus Between Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Lawsuits
Wrongful death lawsuits and personal injury claims have numerous similarities. However, wrongful death claims happen when an accident causes death interpol lawyers can check if you have a red notice.
Accident victims can negotiate a settlement or sue to recover damages from the defendant. Personal injury victims must prove the at-fault party intentionally or negligently harmed them. If they successfully prove their case, they can receive damages for emotional distress, pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses.
Conversely, the relative or representative of the deceased in a wrongful death claim pursues a case against those responsible for the death. They can negotiate a settlement or file a lawsuit to recover compensation for the medical expenses and pain and suffering the deceased went through before passing on. Furthermore, they can receive compensation for burial expenses, possible future earnings, loss of companionship, and funeral bills.
Is Wrongful Death a Civil or Criminal Case?
It is a civil lawsuit. An individual, family member, company, or business can file wrongful death claims. They aim to receive financial compensation for losing their loved one and possible future earnings.
However, criminal charges like manslaughter, murder, and homicide are usually appropriate in many instances where death happens. The state institutes criminal cases for a breach of laws. Jail time is one of the possible punishments.
The standard of proof in criminal cases varies from a wrong death matter. A prosecutor must establish the features of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, in a civil matter like wrongful death, the plaintiff only needs to prove the matter by a preponderance of the evidence.
Types of Wrongful Death Matters
Wrongful death claims can happen in any circumstance where another person’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing caused the death of someone. Typical examples include:
You can pursue a wrongful death case after an intentional act like battery or assault and murder, which led to a fatality.
You can also pursue a wrongful death case against a defendant who negligently caused your loved one harm. If you prosecute a claim based on negligence, you must prove that the defendant acted with a level of care below what an ideal logical individual would have shown in the same context. Examples include lack of warning, defective products, construction accidents, dog bites, car accident matters, and slips and falls.
Furthermore, you can file a wrongful death claim against a physician or care provider who acts below their expected professional level of care. Here, you must prove the defendant’s failure directly caused the death.
These claims differ from simple negligence cases. A plaintiff must show that the at-fault party acted with a substandard level of care to what an average reasonable individual would have done in the same context instead of proving a duty of care violation.
Those That Can Sue for Wrongful Death
Those who can sue on behalf of the deceased include their surviving spouses, parents or children, a personal representative of their estate, or other immediate family members.
The wrongful death statute of the state where the incident occurs determines the specific details for who can make a claim.
Those Liable for Wrongful Death
Almost everybody or a firm can be liable for a wrongful death. Typical examples include motorists guilty of collisions, designers or builders of faulty roadways, medical experts guilty of malpractice, government agencies guilty of not providing warnings about dangerous road hazards, and designers of defective products.
Others are organizations or persons who provide toxic substances to impaired drivers who cause deadly crashes, organizations that fail to warn about the risks of their products, and employers of those who caused the fatality while on duty.
Immunity From Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Although plaintiffs can sue individuals and organizations if they caused or contributed to the wrongful death of their loved ones, there are exceptions. For instance, some government agencies and employees are immune from liability for actions within the range of their official responsibilities.
Also, employees may not typically sue their employer for a wrongful fatality on the job. Instead, you should claim within the employees’ system in most cases.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If you are convinced your loved one or relative died due to an intentional act or negligence, contact a lawyer to discuss filing a wrongful death claim immediately for timely recovery of compensation.
Your attorney will file the lawsuit in a court with jurisdiction over the issue. It means you must pursue the claim where the incident happened. Alternatively, you can negotiate a settlement with the guilty party. Usually, your attorney will negotiate with the at-fault individual’s insurer.
Further, the duration for settling wrongful death cases varies. While some may settle quickly within months, others take several years. Many issues arise during the case that both parties must consider critically before deciding on the best way forward.
You should also be aware of the statute of limitations. This statute sets a time limit for a plaintiff to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While it differs by state, it is often two years from the date of fatality.
However, if the death was due to medical malpractice, the time limit may not run until you discover or should have discovered the malpractice that caused the death. For instance, if you got the autopsy report three months after the death, the time limit will start ticking the day you got the report.
If you fail to file your case within the statute of limitations, you can no longer institute it.
How You Can Win a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
You must prove the following elements of negligence to win a wrongful death claim:
- The defendant owed the deceased a responsibility of care
- The defendant violated the role
- The violation of duty caused the death
- You experienced damages due to the fatality
You must provide proof and witness testimony to convince the jurors or judge that a wrongful fatality happened and that you had damages to win a case.
How to Defend Yourself in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit against you or your firm does not translate to an automatic victory for the plaintiff. You can defend yourself, and some of the defenses you can employ include:
- You acted in self-defense
- You had no duty of care to the deceased
- The deceased caused or contributed to their death
- Others are more to blame for the fatality
- Your actions did not cause the fatality
- The statute of limitation has expired
- You were not negligent and acted the same way every reasonable person would have done
- The deceased was involved in an unlawful act at the time of their death, which triggered the fatality
Wrongful Death Settlements and Compensation
Many factors affect wrongful death compensation. There is no average compensation amount due to the uniqueness of each case. Ideally, a plaintiff will receive compensation for the following after proving their case successfully: loss of the deceased’s lifetime earnings, loss of the deceased’s services, medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of companionship, pain, and suffering, and loss of inheritance.
Some states also add punitive damages to punish guilty parties for gross negligence or intentional conduct.
Similarly, we cannot state an average payout for a wrongful death case due to the uniqueness of each case, but damages may range from thousands to millions of dollars. The factors influencing payout include the deceased age, health status, education and training, income ability, medical and funeral expenses, lost benefits, and the age of survivors.
A plaintiff may receive damages in one lump or agree to a structured payment pattern. Also, the government does not tax compensatory wrongful death settlements. However, punitive damages may be taxable. You should liaise with tax experts to know how to handle each case.
The at-fault party’s insurer usually caters to damages, except if they are not insured or their policy is lower than the amount of damages given, where they become personally responsible.
Contact a Reputable Attorney
Navigating legal processes alone as a plaintiff or defendant can be quite complex. “It can be intimidating to file and defend your case alone. Seeking the help of a lawyer familiar with wrongful death cases can help you get the best possible result,” advises Attorney Ronny Hulsey of Smith Hulsey Law.