What Is Legally Considered a Wrongful Death?

It is awful enough to be hurt as a result of someone else’s carelessness or negligence. When a loved one dies, the survivors experience wrath, grief, and confusion. They want the responsible party held accountable for their loved one’s death. During this tough time, many people consider taking legal action.

These actions constitute wrongful death claims. A wrongful death lawsuit allows the victim’s family to sue the person or entity legally responsible for the victim’s death. Wrongful death claims cannot bring the victim back and will not hold the defendant criminally accountable, but they can provide monetary compensation to family members for the loss of a loved one. Best wrongful death lawyers have a lot of successful cases in this practice and can assist you with that.

What Is Wrongful Death?

The term “wrongful death” refers to any death caused by “the negligent, willful, or wrongful act, neglect, omission, or default of another.” A wrongful death claim is similar to a personal injury claim, with the exception that it is filed by the victim’s family or estate.

Every state has its own wrongful death laws. Wrongful death rules specify who can claim for wrongful death and the amount of damages. In most states, the statute of limitations, or the time restriction within which survivors must bring their complaint, ranges from one to three years.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

Most state laws restrict recovery in wrongful death cases to immediate family members, surviving spouses, children, and parents. The standards differ from those for heirs under the will or state intestacy laws. For example, a non-family member who is listed as a beneficiary in a will cannot sue for wrongful death. However, the personal representative may sue on behalf of the decedent’s estate. Any damages recovered are subsequently dispersed in accordance with the will or state rules governing intestacy.

Types of Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death lawsuits frequently follow or are filed alongside other types of personal injury litigation. In every instance, the first step is to prove negligence. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant had a duty to the victim, breached it, and caused an injury that resulted in death. The distinction is that the remaining victims are owed recompense for their losses. In some cases, filing a wrongful death claim requires that the victim die within a year of the accident.

There are several legal practice areas that intersect with wrongful death. Examples of cases that result in wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • Criminal trials with or without a guilty verdict

Civil trials have a lower burden of proof than criminal trials, therefore it is conceivable to receive a conviction of “responsible for causing the death” even if the defendant was found not guilty in the criminal trial.

  • Motor vehicle accidents

Car accidents, particularly DUIs and traffic accidents, anger survivors because fatalities seldom result in criminal charges. Civil wrongful death cases can provide cash compensation as an alternative.

  • Workplace accidents

Employers have a duty of care to their employees to create a safe and risk-free workplace. A failure of this responsibility can result in wrongful death lawsuits.

  • Product liability

Defective products that cause harm or death are frequently the target of mass tort or class action lawsuits. Family members may be allowed to join these lawsuits as part of a wrongful death claim.

  • Medical malpractice

When medical care causes death, surviving family members face unanswered issues and large medical expenses. A wrongful death compensation might address both the questions and medical bills left behind by a loved one’s death.

Wrongful Death Damages

Wrongful death claims are civil, not criminal. There is no determination of guilt, as in a criminal case. Although one or more persons may be accountable for the victim’s death, this does not imply guilt. The plaintiffs in a case receive cash compensation for their claim.

Historically, wrongful death claims insured that widows and orphans of a deceased person received financial support if the decedent did not leave an estate. Today, they provide cash recompense to survivors as well as justice to the negligent party.

Most states restrict the damages in a wrongful death case to:

  • Economic damages include the loss of the decedent’s income or prospective income, medical bills paid by the survivors, burial expenses, and other monetary losses;
  • Non-economic damages include loss of consortium (loss of companionship with a spouse), parental loss, and emotional distress;
  • Most states do not award punitive damages in wrongful death cases. Punitive damages are granted in personal injury cases where the defendant’s actions were highly negligent but did not amount to criminal activity. A wrongful death attorney can explain the laws in your state.

Hiring a Wrongful Death Lawyer

There are very few wrongful death lawsuits that go before a jury. Personal injury lawyers and insurance companies would rather negotiate settlements that benefit all parties involved than risk a jury verdict. Given the complexities of the legal system, you may benefit from having a qualified lawyer on your side.

If you have experienced a wrongful death in your family and require legal assistance, you should talk with an experienced personal injury attorney. They will ensure that you start the legal process in time to beat the statute of limitations, assist you in gathering evidence, and bargain on your behalf. 

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