Wrongful Death

Have you lost a loved one due to the negligence of a person or business?

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What is wrongful death?

The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult and emotional events on the spectrum of human experience. This event is made even more traumatic when it is caused by the malicious intent, negligence, recklessness or carelessness of another person. If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, it is important to understand your legal rights so that you can take appropriate next steps and be sure that justice is served.

Quite simply, wrongful death exists when someone is shown to be legally culpable for the death of another person. Legal culpability is determined when it can be proven that the person or persons at fault failed to act in a reasonable manner, thus causing the death at hand.

Wrongful death lawsuit components

First, duty of care must be established. In other words, you must be able to prove that the defendant owed some reasonable level of action to the deceased. Duty of care applies differently depending on different situations and circumstances. For example, all drivers share the duty of care to follow traffic laws & drive in a safe manner. If a driver runs a red light, thus causing an accident which leads to a death, that may be a wrongful death claim. Or, you can say that a nanny or babysitter in your employ has the duty of care to diligently and safely watch your children. If he/she leaves your children alone, which leads to an accident resulting in death, that might be a wrongful death claim.

Breach of duty logically follows once duty of care has been established. It must be proven that the defendant breached whatever duty he/she owed to the deceased. This means that the defendant acted inconsistently with the way any reasonable person would have acted in the situation.

The third element in a wrongful death claim is causation. You must be able to show that the defendant’s actions or inaction caused or contributed to the death in question. A direct link between the defendant’s choices & actions and the death must be established. Could the accident have been prevented if the driver had not been drunk? That is causation. Would the child not have wandered into the pool had the babysitter been present to watch him/her? That is causation.

Finally, damages must be proven. Of course, one obvious damage in any wrongful death suit is the unnecessary & unjust loss of life. Damages can also extend to emotional & monetary suffering experienced by the loved ones of the deceased.

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What are some examples of wrongful death claims?

It is an unfortunate reality that accidents & incidents resulting in death happen all the time. Some common situations in which wrongful death claims occur include:

Medical malpractice- Because a doctor has the duty of care to adequately diagnose and treat patients, any breach in this protocol can leave a doctor open to wrongful death suits. This can include misdiagnosis, a surgical error, or a subpar level of care that results in death.

Vehicular accidents – Over 15,000 car accidents occur in the U.S per day. Some of these unfortunately result in death, and some are undoubtedly caused by negligence on the part of drivers and other motorists. Driving under the influence or recklessly can lead to wrongful death lawsuits. Boat accidents & airplane accidents can also lead to wrongful death claims against people or manufacturers, depending on the circumstances.

Hazardous conditions in the workplace – The workplace can sometimes be dangerous and lead to death through injuries & illnesses. Many times, employers are protected from wrongful death lawsuits due to workers compensation insurance, but circumstances exist where they may face liability.

Faulty & defective products – Though many regulations exist to prevent deaths resulting from faulty and defective products, it unfortunately still occurs. Whether it is a dangerous children’s toy, an appliance that has malfunctioned or a heavy piece of machinery that was missing a part, these instances open companies up to wrongful death lawsuits.

Who can I sue?

The question of who can be sued in a wrongful death suit is highly dependent on the circumstances of the death. Individuals are commonly sued in wrongful death cases. These can include unsafe drivers, negligent employees, doctors & other medical personnel, etc.

Companies & businesses are often sued in wrongful death suits as well if they can be proven to be at fault for a death. Some of the common scenarios in which a company may be sued for wrongful death include:

Car accidents – While individual drivers are sometimes at fault for deaths caused by car accidents, car companies & manufacturers can be sued if defective equipment or inadequate safety protocols were to blame for the accident.

Structural hazards – Premise liability allows wrongful death suits to be filed against businesses if unsafe property conditions were at fault for the death.

Hospitals – Though individual doctors are frequently sued in medical malpractice cases hospitals can also be sued for wrongful death if gross negligence on behalf of hospital employees can be proven. This could occur in the case of a nursing or administrative error, for example.

Depending on the circumstances of the death, you may also be able to sue the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows citizens to file a wrongful death claim if an employee of the government is at fault for a death due to negligence that occurred during and within the scope of the employee’s work.

Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
Individual states have their own rules about who can file wrongful death claims and oftentimes, it is highly dependent on the specific circumstances surrounding the deceased and his/her relations. A suit can be brought by a variety of people affected by the death in question. Generally, these are some of the most common parties who file wrongful death lawsuits:

  • Immediate family members, usually a spouse or child of the deceased
  • A member of a civil union or domestic partnership
  • More distant family members including siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, etc.
How does the process work?
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What kind of damages can I recover?
Recovery of damages in a wrongful death suit varies state-to-state. The ability to recover damages and what damages specifically can be recovered are subject to the circumstances of the deceased at the time of their death. This includes their age, health, job trajectory, and how many family members and dependents they may have had. Most states will allow you to recover damages related to funeral costs as well as pain & suffering experienced by the deceased.

Common damages in wrongful death suits include:

  • Loss of financial support from the deceased, including future earnings
  • Loss of any prospective inheritance
  • Pain & suffering, including loss of companionship and parental guidance

How can a lawyer help me?

Whether you have lost a loved one due to a car accident, a dangerous & defective product, medical malpractice, or anything in between, we want to help.

We recommend that you contact a lawyer because they will be able to assist with:

  • Determining if you can bring legal action and against which party or parties
  • Conducting a deep and thorough investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one
  • Gathering essential documents and ensuring that all filing deadlines are met
  • Finding and consulting with any necessary experts, including medical experts, manufacturing & construction experts, security experts, etc.
  • Representing your best interests at trial if necessary
  • Recovering any & all damages that you and your family are entitled to, including those related to funeral expenses, loss of income, loss of inheritance, pain & suffering experienced by the deceased, and pain & suffering experienced by family members

We understand the pain that you are experiencing and know that no amount of money will ever be able to make up for the magnitude of your loss, but we want to help minimize any economic suffering or hardship. We will help you to ensure that while your loved one may be gone; they will never be forgotten.

Will I have to go to court?

There is a possibility that you will have to go to court if you file a wrongful death claim. Very often, wrongful death suits will settle outside of court. A trial can be an incredibly lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive endeavor for all parties. Therefore, most experienced attorneys will attempt to recover appropriate & deserved damages on your behalf efficiently outside of court.

However, you should be prepared to go to court because it may become a necessity. It is incredibly important to choose your attorney carefully, knowing that you must trust them to protect your best interests both outside of court and at a trial.

More Information

Some location-specific wrongful death content can be found in the links below:

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