What Is a Wrongful Death and What Qualifies as One?

Every year, thousands of people die as a result of accidents or injuries that are no fault of their own. In 2018, over 167,000 people died as a result of unintentional injuries, which is the third leading cause of death in the US. 

If your loved one died as a result of an accident or injury, you know how devastating that is. Not only have you lost a loved one, but you also may have lost your spouse, your financial support, and a parent of your children.

If you want to learn more about what is a wrongful death, what qualifies, and what you should do if you suspect that your loved one’s death is due to someone else’s actions, read on. 

What Is a Wrongful Death?

If your loved one died as the result of someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In order to bring a wrongful death suit, the following elements need to be present? 

  • The death of someone 
  • Negligence or misconduct contributed to the death
  • A representative for the deceased person’s estate 

The negligence may be intentional or unintentional, so even if the person who caused the death didn’t intend for anyone to die, they could lose a wrongful death suit if their negligence contributed to the death.

Some of the common types of wrongful death cases include: 

  • Medical malpractice
  • Car accident
  • Plane crash
  • Assault resulting in death
  • Defective product 
  • Intentional killing 

If you think the death of your loved one was due to the negligence of another person, you should contact an attorney to determine if you have a case. 

What Must Be Proved in a Wrongful Death Action?

To prove that a wrongful death occurred, the plaintiffs must show that the defendant (the person who those bringing the suit alleges is responsible for their loved one’s death) owed the victim a duty of care and that they breached this duty. You must also prove that the breach of care was the direct cause of the death and that the death caused the damages you are trying to get compensated for. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit? 

Not just anyone can file a wrongful death suit. Each state has its own requirements as to who is eligible to file, but in general, states will allow those who are financially dependent on the deceased person to file a wrongful death suit. 

In Californa, those who can file include: 

  • The deceased person’s surviving spouse
  • The deceased person’s children
  • The deceased person’s domestic partner

If the following can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased person, they also can file a wrongful death suit: 

  • The deceased person’s putative spouse and children of the putative spouse 
  • The deceased person’s stepchildren
  • The deceased person’s parents 

If there is no surviving spouse or children, anyone who would be entitled to the proceeds of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death suit.

Damages Available 

The damages available depend on the circumstances of the case and the financial situation of the deceased person. When determining damages, the court usually will attribute them to either the estate or the surviving family members. Damages attributed to the state typically include:

  • Any funeral and burial or cremation expenses
  • Hospital or other medical bills for care prior to the death
  • Lost income, including future income that is lost because of their death

Damages attributed to the surviving family members include:

  • The loss of household services (for example, if the deceased person handled all of the cooking, cleaning, and childcare)
  • Loss of anticipated financial support (for example, if the deceased person has a surviving minor child, the financial support they would have received until age 18 and potentially the costs of going to college)
  • Loss of companionship, attention, affection, moral support, and guidance

An experienced wrongful death attorney will be able to accurately estimate the damages that you may be entitled to and know how to value things like loss of companionship, future income, and loss of household services. 

Statute of Limitations 

There is a statute of limitations on wrongful death cases. This means that you only have a certain amount of time to file a wrongful death suit.

The amount of time you have to file varies by state and once that time has passed, you are no longer eligible to file a wrongful death suit. 

In Nevada, you have two years from the date of the death of the deceased person to file a wrongful death claim. In Washington, however, you have three years from the death of the victim. 

California is slightly different, in that you have two years from the date of death of the victim but with medical malpractice, you have three (3) years from the date of the fatal injury or one year from the date the victim discovered their injury. 

It is wise to file a wrongful death suit sooner rather than later, as the longer you wait, the harder it is to investigate the injuries and death. It also makes it more difficult to track down medical records, people who may be involved in the accident and makes it less likely that any witnesses or others involved will remember details about the case. 

Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney Today 

If your loved one died as the result of someone else’s negligence, you should contact a wrongful death attorney to determine if you have a strong case. Ensure that you and any others who were financially dependent on the deceased get that compensation that they are entitled to and that those who are at fault for the death are held responsible. 

Contact us today. Our lawyers specialize in wrongful death and personal injury cases. 

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