We can define wrongful death as the situation when a person is killed due to the misconduct or negligence of another entity. Criminal prosecution is possible, but the wrongful death lawsuit is basically a civil action. It is distinct and separate from the criminal charge. In civil cases, there is a much lower standard of proof used.
Various circumstances can lead to the wrongful death lawsuit. This includes toxic torts, car accidents, medical malpractice, criminal activity, and manufacturing defects. In every state, there are different laws and rules that apply. There are even some agencies with governmental immunity that cannot be prosecuted for such a lawsuit.
Based on US state, the lawsuit has to be filed by someone that represents eligible survivors. The official name for the survivals is “real parties in interest”. Family member eligibility does vary a lot from one location to another. In all of them, children, parents (when children are not married), and spouses can be representatives. In some of the states, other individuals, like financial dependents and putative spouses are also allowed to recover damages. Sometimes, even grandparents and siblings are allowed to start a wrongful death lawsuit.
The most important part of the wrongful death lawsuit is to prove that the death was caused by the intentionally wrong actions or negligence of another party. It is also important to prove eligibility for the compensation and show who the representative is. Usually, the representative is a personal injury attorney with a specialization in wrongful death cases.
What Damages Can Be Obtained?
The representative can recover non-economic and economic damages from the party at fault. The economic damages are very easy to understand. They include funeral and medical expenses, lost household, out-of-pocket expenses, loss of income, loss of support, and even lost inheritance prospects. For instance, when an adult that earns a wage and has children dies, children can recover compensation to cover parental guidance loss. Plaintiffs often need to retain economists to properly evaluate a decedent’s life expectancy and future earnings.
When referring to noneconomic damages, they are much more complicated to calculate. They include coverage for pain and suffering. In this case, interest is added to the amount, starting when the death occurred.
In some US states, the jury can award extra punitive damages. This happens when the death was caused by gross negligence and egregious conduct. However, there are states where punitive damages cannot be gained.
The last thing you should know is that there are cases where survival actions are available. This is where decedents do not immediately die and a different personal injury lawsuit was started. This can recover pain and suffering damages for what happened before death. A jury will analyze pain severity, the consciousness of the decedent, and impending death awareness level.
As you can easily notice, wrongful death cases can become complicated fast. It is very important to hire an experienced personal injury attorney capable of helping you if someone you loved died and you are entitled to financial compensation. This is a very tricky situation that requires a thorough understanding of the law.