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What is Wrongful Death?

This is the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another human being. Wrongful acts can include:

  • negligence
  • intentional attack
  • death in the course of another crime
  • vehicle manslaughter
  • homicide

This area of law is governed by statute. These vary from state to state but in general they define who may sue for wrongful death and what limits may be applied to an award of damages. Continue reading to find questions answered by Experts.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

It is encouraged to seek the help of an attorney and file for a wrongful death lawsuit as soon as possible after the event. The premise behind a wrongful death lawsuit is the deceased person’s family members were directly impacted emotionally and financially due to the death. To be successful in this type of lawsuit, the family must establish two things:

  • They must prove their loved one’s death was caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness or deliberate act. The event cannot be brought on by his own action or inaction.
  • Surviving family members must communicate that they have suffered measurable damages due to the death.

Common grounds for a lawsuit include death by an automobile accident, work-related accident or medical malpractice. Each state dictates who can file the lawsuit. Surviving spouses, children and extended family members can file in most states. The family member must open a probate estate so they can sue on their loved one’s behalf. If minor children are involved, the court may require that a guardian be appointed.

Wrongful Death Settlement

Damages awards, or settlements, are available for wrongful death lawsuits and vary from state to state. These help the survivors in the lawsuit. Survivors are compensated the financial contribution value the victim would have made. This is called economic damage and includes the following:

  • medical and funeral expenses
  • loss of victim’s expected earnings
  • loss of benefits
  • loss of an inheritance
  • the value of goods and services they would have provided

Non-economic damages are less tangible but often have more value than economic damages. Examples include:

  • damages for the survivor’s mental anguish or pain and suffering
  • loss of the care, protection, guidance and nurturing
  • loss of love, society and companionship
  • loss of consortium from a lost spouse

Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for the wrongful act. Most states do not recognize this and are not recoverable from certain defendants including government agencies. In some states, interest and attorney’s fees can be recovered from the time they were incurred to the time they are collected.

Statute of Limitations

The time limit in which you must file a wrongful death claim is described as a statute of limitation. If it is filed outside of this time limit, you may lose your right to sue. Each state has their own limitations laws pertaining to a wrongful death. The time begins when the party bringing the suit discovers the cause of death. Some states start the time at the death of the injured person. If you run out of time, you still have a few last resort options. These are to toll the statute of limitations, having it waived by the court, and having it waived by the opposing party.

For the court to waive the statute of limitations so the lawsuit can be filed, the situation must meet specific criteria. It is very unlikely the opposing party will meet this request with a positive response. Tolling (delaying or suspending) the statute of limitations period is much more common. An example of this is when a parent to a minor is a victim of a wrongful death. The minor cannot use up their time while he is still a minor. The statute of limitations will not start until the child turns 18 years old. Check your state laws for tolling.

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