Death is a part of life. But some else’s negligence should never cause the untimely death of a loved one. Unfortunately, too many personal injury cases ultimately become wrongful death cases.
Did you know that you are entitled to compensation if your loved one was killed because of someone else’s mistake? Keep reading to learn more about wrongful death cases and what to do if your loved one died as a result of negligence.
What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death case arises when a victim in a personal injury case is killed as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
Wrongful death cases often begin as claims and are settled out of court. However, it’s not always possible to reach a fair settlement and a lawsuit may be filed.
Wrongful death cases can arise out of just about any type of personal injury claim. Common examples of wrongful death situations include slip and fall accidents, car accidents, intentional killings, faulty construction, defective products, and medical malpractice.
Negligent parties can include:
- Business owners
- Property owners
- Property managers
- At-fault drivers
- Trucking companies
- Designers, builders, and engineers
- Manufacturers, installers, and distributors
- Government entities
- Doctors and medical professionals
Wrongful death lawsuits exist to ensure survivors of victims are compensated for their economic and noneconomic losses.
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
In order to win a wrongful death case, you and your attorney must be able to prove that the defendant was negligent and that their negligence caused the death of the victim. This requires establishing that the victim was owed a duty of care by the defendant and that the decedent breached that duty of care.
You must also prove that the defendant was negligent in their actions or inactions and that they were directly responsible for the victim’s death. You should be able to prove that the victim’s death could have easily been prevented.
Understanding the Statute of Limitations
It’s important to understand how the statute of limitations in your state can affect your wrongful death case.
Each state has its own statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit. If you don’t initiate a lawsuit by the date required by your state, you could lose your right to sue. Most states require you to file a lawsuit within a year or two of the date of death.
In some cases, the true cause of the victim’s death may not be immediately known. Sometimes new information comes to light during an autopsy or subsequent investigation.
In these cases, the statute of limitations won’t begin until the true cause of death is known. For this reason, certain types of wrongful death cases often have exceptions to the general statute of limitations.
In many medical malpractice cases, the true cause of death and the circumstances leading to the victim’s death may not be immediately apparent. Families often have to wait for further reports to gain the necessary information to make their case.
Medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits usually have a longer statute of limitations.
Wrongful death lawsuits against government entities usually have an extended statute of limitations. However, there are specific requirements for filing a notice of claim that must be followed.
Wrongful death lawsuits separate from criminal charges when homicide is involved also have longer statutes of limitation. This is because it usually takes time for authorities to conduct investigations and prove a crime was committed.
What if the Statute of Limitations Expires?
In some cases, a plaintiff who fails to file a lawsuit by the time the statute of limitations runs may still have options. These include:
- Tolling the statute of limitations
- Requesting the statute of limitations be waived by the court
- Requesting the other party waive the statute of limitations
It can be extremely difficult to meet the criteria to qualify for one of these exemptions. This is why it’s so important to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible if you have a wrongful death case.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In order to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must qualify as what is called a “real party of interest.” Who exactly qualifies as a legitimate party ultimately depends on the state you live in. Most states restrict plaintiffs to one of the following groups:
Immediate Family Members
Immediate family members include children, parents, and spouses. These parties can file a wrongful death lawsuit in any state.
Distant Family Members
Distant family members include siblings and grandparents. Only certain states allow these parties to file a wrongful death suit. You will likely have to prove that you had a closer than average connection with the victim.
Domestic Partners and Dependents
These parties are often referred to as “punitive spouses.” A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by anyone who was financially dependent on the victim. This means that in some states, blood relation is not required to recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases are much different than criminal cases. These lawsuits are filed by the family or dependents of the victim in civil court.
As such, the defendant is typically not subject to criminal penalties. Instead, they may be ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff.
There are two types of damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death case:
Economic damages include tangible expenses related to the victim’s death. These include medical bills, funeral costs, loss of income, loss of inheritance, loss of future support, and loss of future earnings.
Noneconomic damages are not easily calculated. These damages include pain and suffering.
In some states, punitive damages may be awarded. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant with the goal of deterring future misconduct.
Did Your Loved One Die as a Result of Someone Else’s Negligence?
If you lost a family member or loved one as a result of another party’s negligence, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit. While it’s impossible to replace your loved one, you can get the compensation you deserve for your loss.
You need an experienced and dedicated wrongful death attorney on your side. We specialize in helping victim’s families get the justice they deserve.
Click here to contact us today for a free case evaluation.