Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
Losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence can leave a void that is impossible to fill. These deaths are so tragic because they are preventable. In a recent year alone, there were over 169,000 accidental injury deaths, according to the CDC.
In addition to the profound sorrow felt after such a personal loss, the bereaved may also be facing difficult questions about their financial future and livelihood. The funeral itself may cost between $8,000 and $10,000.
Moments like these are never easy, especially if your loved one’s death was the result of wrongdoing or negligence. A personal tragedy and an uncertain future can be worsened by knowing that those responsible have not been held accountable. However, victims should know they do not have to be alone in this fight. The law allows certain people close to the deceased to sue the parties responsible for their death.
A successful wrongful death lawsuit may result in a financial reward or other compensation. An experienced wrongful death attorney may earn you and your family the compensation they deserve while holding the responsible parties accountable.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is defined differently depending on the state. However, any lawsuit in which the plaintiff alleges that their loved one’s death was caused by the negligence of another party is generally considered to be a wrongful death suit.
In simpler terms, the plaintiff is claiming that the defendant failed to act in a way that a reasonable person would have acted in similar circumstances. And, as a result of this failure to act as a reasonable person, a wrongful death occurred. For example, if a truck driver runs a red light and fatally strikes a pedestrian, this may be grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.
Furthermore, the defendant does not have to be a person. A wrongful death lawsuit may be brought against a company or government entity that bears responsibility as well. In the previous example, if the trucking company had failed to properly train their drivers—and this failure to train resulted in the traffic violation that caused the accident—the trucking company could also be a party to a wrongful death lawsuit; or perhaps the driver failed to notice the red light because the traffic signal had malfunctioned, the government entity responsible for its upkeep might be liable as well.
Who Can Sue?
One of the trickier aspects of a wrongful death claim is determining who can file one, as it varies from state to state. In some states, the spouse, the children, and the parents of the descendent may file a wrongful death claim. Additionally, adopted children may file a wrongful death claim for the death of their adopted parents; but only if the adoption was legal and fully completed.
However, the ability to sue is not just limited to family members and blood relatives. The personal representative of the deceased’s estate may also file a wrongful death suit. In this case, the personal representative is essentially seeking the damages that the deceased would have been entitled to if they were still alive. These damages are known as survival damages.
The deceased’s estate may demand damages for their pain and suffering and loss of income. Essentially, the courts are allowing these estates to address the hardship suffered by the victim in the moments before they died, in addition to what they were deprived of by their loved ones’ untimely death.
Determining who may and may not be a party to a wrongful death suit may be trickier than it seems on the surface. An attorney familiar with wrongful death cases could determine if you are eligible to file suit. Once eligibility is determined, they could then lay out your options and plot a path forward.
What Are Damages and How Are They Determined?
In most wrongful death lawsuits, the plaintiffs are seeking damages. Damages are usually a monetary sum meant to address the suffering and loss incurred by the plaintiffs. Damages can vary wildly depending on the facts of the case. However, courts generally consider a few different factors when calculating how much compensation plaintiffs are owed.
In wrongful death lawsuits, damages may include medical bills, funeral costs, loss of income, loss of companionship, and even loss of inheritance. Calculating damages can be tricky, as courts often have to practice the imprecise science of determining the earning potential of the deceased, and placing a monetary value on other abstract concepts (such as loss of parental guidance).
In rare cases, a court may grant the plaintiffs punitive damages. Punitive damages are not tied to any particular loss suffered by the plaintiff; rather, they are solely intended to punish the defendants for their wrongdoing.
The courts award punitive damages to send a message, to both the defendant and society, that the conduct in question is totally unacceptable. Behavior worthy of punitive damages is grossly negligent and far outside the boundaries of all decency and reasonableness. For example, if a child is struck and killed by a car going 100 mph in a school zone, this may result in an award of punitive damages. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the median punitive damages payout was $64,000, and 13 percent of cases with punitive damages resulted in damages of more than $1 million.
Barriers to Recovery
As discussed above, only certain statutorily defined categories of people may file a wrongful death claim.
Additionally, many jurisdictions impose a two-year statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits. In other words, the plaintiff must file suit within two years of the decedent’s death. If the plaintiff fails to file suit within the two-year window, they forever lose their right to file a claim.
A dedicated wrongful death lawyer can lend stability to an otherwise chaotic and uncertain time. They can go over the facts of your case, give you a sense of your options, and chart a path forward.
A successful wrongful death suit can help provide some financial stability and peace of mind. The plaintiffs may be rewarded monetary damages for medical bills, loss of income, loss of companionship, and other compensation.