Losing a spouse is a life-altering tragedy. It is unfortunately common that a widowed spouse will have to deal with financial and legal repercussions from the loss of their loved one. If the death of your spouse was caused by someone else acting negligently, you may have a case for a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you have lost your spouse through the fault of someone else, contact Zinda Law Group today at (888) 659-9392 for a free case consultation.
What Is The Definition Of Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death is a death that was caused by another in a way that was either unreasonably careless or intentional. A wrongful death action is the lawsuit brought against the individual who caused the death, usually brought by the family members of the deceased, though not always.
In order to prove a wrongful death claim, it must be proved that the party being sued was responsible for the death of the deceased because of a negligent action. There are four elements necessary to prove negligence: duty of care, breach, causation, and damages.
Duty of care
- It must be proven that the at-fault party had a duty to act with care towards the deceased. In general, everyone is expected to act with a reasonable amount of care towards everyone else at all times, no matter what they are doing. This manifests in various ways depending on the action being carried out—for example, a driver fulfills his duty of care to the other drivers on the road by obeying traffic signals, driving carefully, and otherwise behaving reasonably on the road.
- Once it has been established that a duty of care was owed from the at-fault party to the deceased, it must be demonstrated that that duty was breached. A person breaches their duty of care towards others when they fail to act reasonably and take appropriate precautions with their behavior. Since a driver has a duty of care to those they share the road with to drive responsibly, if they do not drive responsibly, such as by driving intoxicated or texting, they breach their duty of care.
- Causation can be the most difficult part of a wrongful death or other personal injury claim to prove. It must be proven that it was the at-fault party’s breach of their duty of care which led to the harm-causing event—in this case, a death. Even if the at-fault party breached their duty of care, that breach must have been the cause of the death and not just something that was happening at the same time.
For example, if a driver is breaching his duty of care by texting and driving, and his texting causes him to veer into the next lane and hit another car, causing the death of a passenger, his breach (texting while driving) is established as the cause of the wrongful death.
However, if a driver is texting and driving and his tire happens to blow out, sending him veering into the next lane hitting another car, establishing causation could be difficult or impossible. This is because an attorney would have to prove that it was the texting that caused the car to hit the other car, and not the tire blowing out, something which could have happened even if he hadn’t been texting.
- It is not enough for the duty of care to be breached and for that breach to have caused the incident at hand; there must also be damages that are directly incurred by the breach in order to have recovery. In wrongful death cases, however, this is assumed to already be established, as the harm done by the incident is the wrongful death of the deceased individual.
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Who Can File A Wrongful Death Suit?
In the past, usually only the immediate, surviving family of the deceased was able to bring a wrongful death suit. However, today many states have codified into law the ability of other people to bring suits for wrongful death. This includes enabling the executors and administrators of a deceased person’s estate to sue for wrongful death.
In some states, but not all, you do not need to be the spouse or trustee of a deceased individual to sue for wrongful death. Some jurisdictions allow for wrongful death lawsuits to be brought by long-term partners, non-immediate family members such as siblings or grandparents, or other individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased.
What Situations Warrant Wrongful Death Claims?
Any situation in which someone causes a death through their wrong action could be the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. However, most wrongful death claims are based upon incidents of negligence. These can commonly include car accidents, medical malpractice, or defective products.
Intentional killing also results in a wrongful death lawsuit. While homicide is a criminal matter, the family of a deceased person can also bring a civil lawsuit against the individual responsible to recover compensation. A civil wrongful death lawsuit is separate from a criminal trial, and might lead to two different verdicts.
How Hard Is It To Prove Wrongful Death?
One difficulty in proving wrongful death comes from federal law. Some government agencies and employees are immune from wrongful death suits. The Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) gives railroads immunity to some wrongful death claims, such as failure to maintain warning lights at a crossing. Likewise, some drug manufacturers have been found not to be liable for state wrongful death lawsuits.
Another difficulty in proving wrongful death is the element of causation as discussed above.
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What Is The Best Way To Prove The Wrongful Death Of My Spouse?
With all of the complexity surrounding a wrongful death lawsuit, your best chance of success in pursuing a wrongful death claim is to hire an experienced wrongful death lawyer. While there can be no absolutes, an experienced lawyer will be able to determine whether or not the circumstances of your loved one’s death could be pursued for a wrongful death claim. Your lawyer will know whether federal law preempts the claim or what evidence is needed to establish negligence.
In addition, your lawyer will be able to determine all of your options for pursuing compensation, because they may not be as straightforward as you expect.
For example, a fatal car accident in which the at-fault driver was intoxicated could give rise to a claim against the driver. But what if the driver has no insurance and no assets, leaving them immune to any judgment that leads to recovery of compensation?In this case, dram shop liability could allow a wrongful death suit to be brought against the drinking establishment which served alcohol to the intoxicated driver.
Should I File A Lawsuit For Wrongful Death?
You should consider filing a lawsuit for wrongful death if you believe that your loved one has died as a result of wrongful actions by another. This does not just take the form of a direct action causing critical injury or death to an individual, such as a car accident or intentional homicide. Badly maintained building safety measures, doctors rendering substandard medical treatment, or malfunctioning products are all possible wrongful death scenarios.
It is important to speak to a wrongful death attorney about your claim, as their experience litigating similar claims will be able to help clarify the circumstances of your situation.
At Zinda Law Group, your consultation with a wrongful death attorney is free of charge, so you don’t have to worry about spending money to learn whether or not you should litigate your claim.
Is there a Statute of Limitations under Wrongful Death?
A statute of limitation is a time period in which it is possible to file a legal action against someone else. Not all legal actions can be pursued at an indefinite time, and eventually your option to file a wrongful death claim is going to expire. This is especially important to know with wrongful death claims, because pursuing compensation for the loss of a spouse is not something immediately thought about by many people—there may be numerous familial or personal difficulties and responsibilities at hand.
Generally, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years, but this varies from state to state. In Tennessee, Kentucky, and Louisiana, the statute of limitations is only one year, whereas Maine has a six year statute of limitations for wrongful death.
While it can be difficult to find the time or energy to speak to a lawyer soon after the death of a spouse, it can be important to do so as soon as possible so that you are not barred from seeking justice by bringing your claim too late.
Contact Zinda Law Group Today
If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s actions, you need to focus on your emotional well-being and the well-being of your surviving loved ones. You shouldn’t have to worry about your financial status as a result of your loved one’s death, or question whether you can afford adequate legal representation to receive justice for what happened.
At Zinda Law Group, our experienced attorneys will fight for you and your loved ones so that you can focus on recovering from what has happened to you. The wrongful death attorneys of Zinda Law Group have successfully achieved compensation for numerous clients. In addition, Zinda Law Group’s No-Win, No-Fee policy means that you do not pay anything unless a favorable result is achieved.
For a free consultation with the wrongful death attorneys of Zinda Law Group, call (888) 659-9392 today.
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