Steven A. Bagen | April 21, 2023 | Personal Injury
Wrongful death is when someone dies from another person’s misconduct or negligence. The culprit can also be an entity like a business. When someone dies, there is usually a criminal investigation into the circumstances. However, a wrongful death claim is a civil action that families and dependents of the deceased can take.
If you believe that a loved one’s death was caused by a car accident, it’s important to speak with a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. The standard of proof is lower in civil actions, and an experienced car accident lawyer can help you gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and fight for the compensation you deserve. Some other situations that can lead to wrongful death claims include premises accidents, medical malpractice, toxic torts, criminal activity, or manufacturing defects.
When Wrongful Death Applies?
A person must die from the negligent actions of another party to have a wrongful death claim. The deceased might have filed a personal injury claim if they did not die from their injuries. Those are two requirements for filing a wrongful death action.
When one person intentionally kills another, they can face criminal charges, and the surviving family can take civil action through a wrongful death claim. Murder is a prime example of intentional death.
Motor Vehicle Collisions:
Vehicle deaths are common, and they are often due to the negligent actions of a driver. Examples of negligent driver actions include intoxication, reckless driving, and not obeying traffic rules. Drivers of larger vehicles like semi-trucks have greater chances for error and typically cause more damage than passenger vehicles.
Fatal medical malpractice can happen during surgery or other medical procedures. Surviving family members can file claims against the doctor and other medical professionals who treated the patient. These are very complex cases, especially when there is a failure to treat or diagnose.
Who Can Sue?
In certain states, an estate representative must file wrongful death actions against the negligent party. Survivors of the deceased are real parties in interest, and families can stake claims on the estate depending on the state and relevant laws.
Examples of interested parties are spouses and children. In cases where the deceased was unmarried and without children, their parents can seek recovery. In some states, financially dependent, putative spouses, siblings, and grandparents can also get wrongful death damages.
Whoever files the claim is responsible for proving the deceased’s death happened due to someone’s negligence or wrongful actions. The family must also show that the family members suffered harm because of the death and are eligible to recover damages. Families are grieving and can find this challenging, but a local wrongful death lawyer can help.
Non-Family Members Rights
When no family members are left, non-family members wonder if they have options. If the deceased has a will, anyone they name will become the executor. The court can assign the executor as a personal representative of the estate. Wills are the only way non-family members can take legal action when someone dies. These parties are also known as legatees.
Examples of legatees are:
Civil union partners can also seek wrongful death compensation. Domestic partners whose names are in the will can also take legal action. Lastly, in some states, a pet can also be in a will. While you might not think that people name their pets in their will, many do. The pet will have a caregiver who has access to the funds. Non-family members have rights but should discuss their options with a wrongful death lawyer.
Can Two People File a Wrongful Death Claim?
The court can appoint a representative if there are issues with who can file a wrongful death claim. However, when these issues arise, the probate process will take longer. When the court appoints a representative, that party can file a wrongful death lawsuit. It is best to avoid arguing about who can file legal actions, but these arguments can arise.
Who Can Face a Lawsuit?
Anyone who causes death can face a lawsuit for compensation, with few exceptions. Wrongful death cases often have multiple defendants, and an experienced wrongful death lawyer can work to identify all negligent parties.
Some possible defendants in your case can be:
- At-fault drivers
- Design and manufacturing companies of defective products
- Companies who fail to warn about product use risks
- Government agencies
- Designers and builders of roadways
- Medical professionals
There are few immunities for wrongful death lawsuits. Sometimes government agencies and their employees can be immune to wrongful death actions. Employers can be exempt from a wrongful death claim, but surviving families can file a worker’s compensation claim instead.
Elements in Wrongful Death Claims
When you seek wrongful death damages, you must prove several elements for a successful claim. You will have limited time to prove these elements and file a lawsuit because of the statute of limitations for your state.
A wrongful death lawsuit requires:
- The death resulted from another person’s negligence
- The family members suffered monetary injuries
- A personal representative for the deceased’s estate
Evidence and expert testimony can be critical when proving these elements. You will need a wrongful death lawyer to investigate the death and gather sufficient evidence.
When assessing damages in a wrongful death case, one critical calculation is the future earnings the person would have brought into the home if they survived. These losses can require an expert economist’s opinion on economic losses based on life expectancy and employment prospects. Your lawyer can also hire medical experts and accident reconstruction specialists to show evidence of the party’s condition and the cause of the injury leading to their death.
Estate representatives can seek economic and non-economic compensation. Monetary damages cover medical treatment, funeral expenses, and other tangible losses. Children can seek loss of parental guidance damages as well. While the economist will provide an opinion, the jury will also look at the person’s earnings at the time of death and their future earning potential. Non-economic damages are intangible and cover mental anguish and other losses in that realm.
Your wrongful death claim worth will depend on various factors, and experts will play a pivotal role in addressing these losses. There is a lot to consider.
Relevant factors in calculating case worth include:
- The person’s age and income
- Their life expectancy
- The relationship between the plaintiff and the deceased
- State wrongful death laws
Employment status at the time of death will also affect case value. Someone unemployed at their death might be unable to garner a substantial settlement. Families should discuss their options with a wrongful death lawyer before deciding what to do next.
Aside from economic and non-economic compensation, punitive damages can be available for gross negligence. Punitive damages are not available in every state or every case, and you must discuss your legal options with a wrongful death lawyer.
There are also survival actions that you can seek in some cases. When the deceased does not immediately die from their injuries, the estate can file for pain and suffering the deceased suffered before their death. The amount of consciousness, the severity of their pain, and awareness of their impending death will all matter in tabulating these damages.
Wrongful Death Versus Personal Injury Lawsuits
Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits have many similarities and critical differences. Personal injury claims happen when a person suffers an injury from someone else’s negligence. Personal injury victims can seek payment for medical bills, lost income, emotional distress, and pain and suffering.
In wrongful death claims, the person is not here to fight for themselves. The family or a personal representative will pursue a claim. During the claim process, they can seek payment for the deceased’s medical expenses before their passing. They can also seek payment for funeral and burial costs and future lost income. Loss of companionship is another compensation that can be available for surviving families.
Seeking Relief for Wrongful Death
The primary goal of a wrongful death claim is to get justice for your loved one and recover payment. Seeking damages can provide important financial support, but it is difficult when grieving your loss. You can continue making arrangements and grieve while letting your wrongful death lawyer handle the legal process.
The primary steps of the wrongful death process include:
- Investigation: Compile evidence that proves duty, breach, causation, and damages. Working with experts and investigators to reconstruct the incident and gather relevant documentation.
- Insurance review: Knowing how much is available in insurance policies is vital to your recovery. Wrongful death lawyers will review all relevant policies, like car insurance, homeowner insurance, or professional malpractice policy.
- Negotiation: The insurance companies will work against you to lower your claim, and you need someone with negotiation skills to fight against them. Your lawyer will negotiate with the insurance company for a fair settlement.
- Litigation: When insurance companies are unwilling to negotiate, you need a lawyer who can take your case into litigation. After a verdict, an appeal may follow, and you need someone who will fight against that.
- Resolution: When all these actions occur, and the case reaches its resolution with a settlement amount, your lawyer will help you collect the funds. Some parties will need disbursement, and your lawyer can handle those accounts.
Helping Your Wrongful Death Claim
Plaintiffs need a lawyer who can protect their rights meet all of their case’s time limitations. Errors and mishaps can damage your claim, but families can take some steps to help during legal proceedings.
Refrain from talking to the insurance company or responsible party. They will try to contact you with nefarious intentions. They will try to record or pick up on small tells that they can use against you. Another tip is to refrain from accepting the initial insurance offer without speaking to a wrongful death lawyer.
Tensions are high, and tragedy can bring out the worst in people. Old arguments can arise, and families can have difficult conversations. While these conversations are necessary, avoid fighting amongst family over money. When families fight, it can hurt the recovery efforts and gives the insurance company ammunition.
Sometimes the local news will cover the death. You must refrain from speaking to any media or community member about the accident. Someone can use statements you make to the media as evidence in wrongful death lawsuits.
Tips for Your Lawsuit
From the beginning, it might be apparent who is primarily at fault for the accident. Families must consider other entities that contributed to the cause of death or share responsibility. Including all responsible parties in the claim is essential for an accurate settlement.
Move quickly to pursue legal action. It is difficult to think about taking legal action, but there are time constraints you should consider. The statute of limitations for wrongful claims can range from one to six years, depending on the residence and parties involved.
The court system is complex. Investing in a reputable lawyer can level the playing field. Aside from deadlines, you want to move quickly because your lawyer will need time to collect evidence and document your losses. You can significantly help your compensation claim by discussing your case with a wrongful death lawyer.
Length of Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death lawsuits are tumultuous, and they can take time to settle. Some cases have a mixture of legal pitfalls that can extend the timeline.
Each state has individual statutes and laws regarding your case. The rival insurance company can also find ways to delay claims. They do not want to pay for your losses or admit fault. When you file a wrongful death claim against a business or company, they don’t want to settle the claim because it means they are admitting fault for a death. This responsibility for their actions can harm their public reputation and open them up to other legal actions.
Speak to a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Grief, stress, and emotions can get in the way of thinking clearly, but Gainesville personal injury lawyer can help. When a loved one dies, you should take the time to grieve and allow a wrongful death lawyer to handle your claim. The complex process requires an immediate consultation with a wrongful death lawyer.