Many people think legal action is limited to criminal cases. Not true. When someone dies because of another person’s actions, the victim’s family may be able to recover through an area of personal injury law called wrongful death.
What is Wrongful Death?
Many causes of death may lead to a wrongful death lawsuit. Each state has its’ own statute on wrongful death, so the circumstances may differ on where and when you bring the lawsuit. The common causes of death resulting in wrongful death lawsuits include:
● Medical Malpractice
● Motor vehicle accidents
● Manufacturing defects
● Intentional torts
Who can file a Wrongful death lawsuit?
Who is allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit will differ by state. Generally, a representative can sue on behalf of the eligible survivors who suffered harm due to the victim’s death. Eligible survivors in most states include spouses, children, and the parents of unmarried children. In a few states, siblings and grandparents of the decedent may also bring a claim.
How to Prove a Wrongful death Case
A wrongful death lawsuit claims that the intentional acts or negligence of another person caused the decedent’s death. Let’s go through each possibility.
When a person acts purposely to harm the victim, they will be responsible under intentional tort. Liability under intentional tort occurs when the defendant knows what they were doing and intends to harm the victim.
Under negligence, a defendant is responsible when they were acting unreasonably. A defendant acts unreasonably when they depart from how the average person would act in similar circumstances. For example, somebody running a red light and causing an accident. A normal person has a responsibility to stop at the red light, but the defendant failed to do so. Therefore, they would be responsible for a wrongful deather under a claim of negligence.
In both intentional and negligence acts, the defendant’s actions must have caused the death.
Which Damages Can Be Recovered in Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
A defendant found to have caused the decedent’s death may be responsible for the following damages:
● Pain and suffering of the victim – If the victim did not suffer an immediate death, the defendant is responsible for any pain and suffering they experienced before dying.
● Medical and funeral expenses
● Out-of-pocket expenses
● Lost household services – These are determined by the cost of hiring workers to perform the same tasks. These include lawn care, landscaping, maid services, and any other household chores the decedent performed that now has to be hired.
● Loss of support and income – this will be determined by looking at earning at the time of death and any potential future earnings.
● Lost prospect of inheritance – this is also determined by looking at earnings at the time of death, potential future earnings, and how the decedent saved their income.
● Lost guidance – A case in which a parent left a child behind, the child may recover for lost guidance from their parent.
Step-By-Step Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Step 1 - Keeping track of medical records
The lawsuit itself will be similar to personal injury lawsuits. Throughout the process, ensure that you have as much information as possible about the incident. This includes finding any pictures that were taken of the scene at hand and the injuries. Monitoring and recording the medical and hospital care in real-time will make it easier in the future to provide this information to your attorney.
Step 2 - Finding a lawyer
The next step in a wrongful death case is finding a lawyer. When looking for a lawyer, don’t just type into Google “personal injury lawyer.” It’s just too broad. You want expertise specifically within the wrongful death space. Ideally, it would be great to find a lawyer who’s already tried a case with this specific type of incident.
Step 3 - filing The Lawsuit
It’s now time to file the lawsuit. Assuming you have a lawyer representing you, your involvement should be minimal. Once the case is filed, the discovery stage comes next, during which your attorney will receive requests for information from the defendant’s attorney. Many times, your attorney will be contacting you to collect the necessary information to respond.
The victim’s family may have to attend a deposition, where the other side will ask questions about the accident and the decedent’s death and injuries. Be prepared to answer questions regarding any pain and suffering your loved one suffered.
Step 4 - Negotiation, Settlement, and Trial
Once the discovery process is over, the sides will then begin negotiating. This process can be over quickly or be a long, exhaustive process. Keep in mind that your attorney is required to advise you of any offer the defense makes.
If you cannot reach an agreement, the sides will move forward to court assisted settlement discussions involving mediations or settlement conferences with the court. If these options fail, then the court will order an arbitration or have a trial.
Finding the Right Lawyer For a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death cases are extremely emotional for the remaining family members. Someone you love has been taken from you because of someone else’s intentional or careless actions. Most personal injury law firms handle wrongful death cases, making picking an attorney difficult because there are so many options. However, try to find someone with whom you feel really understands your circumstances. Your attorney will be your go-to person until the case is over for legal questions and often as someone to lean on. Attorneys often say they have two jobs, to be their client’s attorney and therapist. Therefore, it is essential to pick an attorney you feel comfortable with and that you can trust.