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Losing a loved one is always difficult, but nothing is more devastating than losing a loved one to an accident caused by someone else. A wrongful death claim is a way to seek retribution from the person who caused the death of a loved one.
A family can seek a wrongful death claim, even if that person is also facing criminal charges. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that a family member can bring on behalf of their deceased family member.
What is a Wrongful Death Attorney?
A wrongful death attorney is someone who can the family of a victim who loses their life as a result of someone else’s negligent behavior. When a person dies as a result of someone else, they have no way of recovering any compensation for their death. A family member is sometimes able to obtain compensation on behalf of that person’s death in the form of a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim is a civil action that can attempt to compensate for the death of a family member. The standard of proof is lower in a civil case than it is for a criminal case, so wrongful death may be easier to prove. While there is no adequate compensation to fully replace a loved one, the law can help compensate for economic or non-economic losses.
Most claims for wrongful death will arise when someone else’s negligent or intentional acts caused the death of another. If the person who died could have pursued a claim on their own had they survived, then there is likely a wrongful death claim that can be brought by a family member.
Each state has its own wrongful death statute which includes the criteria and procedure for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, there may be governmental immunity that prevents the prosecution of wrongful death lawsuits.
What Qualifies as a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death claim can only arise from certain incidents and is not available for all deaths. Another person must have caused the death, either negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. Certain incidents may qualify as a wrongful death:
Car or Truck Accidents
These may include drunk driving accidents, distracted drivers, or other accidents that result in a collision on the road. Truck accidents can involve multiple parties and may be complex, but are one of the deadliest kinds of crashes.
Motorcycle Accident and Pedestrian Accidents
Motorcyclists are also a vulnerable group of people on the road because they are harder to see and are more likely to die as a result of a collision. Pedestrians on the road are also vulnerable and can suffer serious injuries or death if they are struck by a vehicle.
Some occupations are more dangerous than others, but a fatal accident at work could lead to a wrongful death claim. There may also be a claim for workers’ compensation and sometimes the family can be compensated through the employee’s workers’ compensation insurance.
Assaults or Criminal Attacks
These can include death resulting in criminal charges for murder or manslaughter. Bringing a separate civil legal claim for wrongful death is not barred in these situations.
A death that occurs on another person’s property may make the property owner liable if there was a dangerous condition on the premises that the owner failed to warn about or repair.
Defective products sold by manufacturers or retailers may be liable if their product was dangerous. Defective drugs that cause a death may also be a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Death as a result of the fault of medical personnel may be a basis for a wrongful death action if there was a misdiagnosis, surgical injury, or equipment malfunction. Nursing home abuse and neglect may also lead to a fatal injury.
Read More: Medical Malpractice Lawyers
Who Can Bring a Claim?
Each state is different, but usually the surviving spouse, children, or parents of the deceased may bring a wrongful death claim. Other parties such as a sibling or another relative may not be able to file a claim if one of the immediate family members listed above has already filed a claim. In some states, siblings and grandparents may be able to bring a claim. A wrongful death attorney may be able to help you understand your rights.
Certain immediate family such as children and spouses are considered primary dependents and are given the priority to file a wrongful death claim. It is also important to file a claim before the time limit runs out, known as the statute of limitations. In most states, the statute of limitations to file a wrongful death claim is two years.
Immediate Family Members
A parent should never have to bury their child, so the loss of a child is especially difficult. If a child was killed as a result of someone else’s negligence, you may have a claim.
Spouses, Life Partners, or Putative Spouses
A spouse may have more claims available to them such as loss of companionship or loss of consortium. Loss of financial security is also a factor. If the spouse lost was the primary provider of income for the family, this will be a contributing issue as well. If there are children involved who no longer have a parental caregiver, expenses may be considered for that too.
Some states allow for a domestic or life partner to recover under a wrongful death claim if they were financially dependent on the deceased. A putative spouse is one who believed in good faith that they were married to the deceased, but there was some unknown legal barrier that prevented a lawful marriage.
Some states will allow brothers, sisters, and grandparents to bring a claim. This may be especially true if the extended family member were caring for a child and raising them at the time of their death.
Some states may allow for anyone who suffered financially from a death to bring a wrongful death claim, even if they are not related by blood or marriage.
Types of Damages Recoverable
While there is no amount of money that can replace or bring back a loved one, allow our attorneys to help you seek other compensation in the form of damages. These may include:
- Funeral expenses or other medical expenses related to and leading up to the death
- Loss of future earnings by the deceased
- Loss of future benefits belonging to the deceased
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional or mental anguish
- Loss of consortium, companionship, support, care, guidance
- Loss of household services
- Loss of inheritance
- These damages are meant to punish the responsible party, if applicable, for egregious conduct or grossly negligent acts
- These damages are very rare
Depending on who the deceased was, damages will be assessed differently. If the deceased was an adult wage earner with children, not only will lost of earnings be factored into the award, but also the loss of parental guidance. A jury will look at the deceased person’s life leading up to the death and will determine the amount of loss.
What Do You Need to Prove a Wrongful Death?
There must be substantial evidence to show that a wrongful death occurred. The standard of proof for wrongful death cases is a preponderance of the evidence. This burden of proof is less than beyond a reasonable doubt, which is used in criminal cases. If a criminal proceeding has already been initiated or a conviction was reached, then it may be easier to meet the standard of proof.
You must be able to show that you are a surviving family member and that you are entitled to bring this lawsuit as an immediate family member. You must be able to show that you or your family has suffered a considerable loss as a result of your loved one’s death. For a negligence claim for wrongful death, the plaintiff must be able to show that the responsible party owed your loved one a duty of care, that duty was breached, and as a result, caused your loved one’s death.
What is a Survival Claim?
Some states recognize survival claims which are another type of claim filed against the responsible party for your loved one’s death. Instead of claiming losses like a wrongful death claim, a survival claim is for the person who actually suffered the loss. The survivor can claim pain and suffering and can recover for what the deceased person could have recovered instead. The suit may be instituted and prosecuted as if the liable person were alive.
In some circumstances, a person or agency may be immune from suit and cannot be sued for wrongful death. This will vary from state to state, but in some cases, if a government agency or employee caused the death during their employment duties, they may be immune from suit.
Get Help from Our Wrongful Death Lawyers
At Zinda Law Group, our experienced personal injury lawyers have helped many families seek compensation for the wrongful death of a loved one. We have the knowledge and resources necessary to help you determine what to do next and to help recover the best possible outcome for your case.