When Can You Sue for Wrongful Death?

According to the CDC, more than 173,000 Americans died in 2019 as a result of an accidental injury. Accidental death is the 3rd leading cause of death in the country.

Many of these accidents could’ve been prevented. If your family member was killed because of someone else’s negligence, you may have a right to sue for compensation.

Keep reading to learn more about when you can sue for wrongful death. 

What is Wrongful Death?

If your loved one suffered an untimely passing and you think this was the result of someone else’s negligence, you may have a wrongful death claim.

A wrongful death claim or lawsuit is usually related to a criminal charge where someone caused the death of another person. The difference is that criminal cases are designed to punish the defendant with prison time, fines, and other penalties.

In these cases, financial damages are not rewarded to the family of the deceased.

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits. They are designed to award financial damages to the family members of the deceased. In these cases, the insurance company of the defendant is usually the one paying.

With a wrongful death claim or lawsuit, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. This means the estate or family member of the deceased must prove that the wrongful death occurred. 

Proving Wrongful Death

When determining whether you can sue for wrongful death, you need to consider whether you can prove your case. A wrongful death claim must prove three basic elements,

Duty of Care

The first element of a wrongful death lawsuit is establishing a duty of care. This means that you must be able to prove that the defendant had a responsibility to treat the deceased in a responsible way, or that they owed them a duty of care.

Common examples where this comes into play include a doctor having a duty of care to prescribe the right medication to a patient or a driver having a duty of care to follow the rules of the road to keep other drivers and pedestrians safe.

Breach of the Duty of Care

After establishing that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, you must be able to prove that the defendant breached that duty.

This means that the defenent acted irresponsibly and did not maintain the standard of care that any other reasonable person would have under the same circumstances.

For example, in the scenarios discussed above a doctor may breach the standard of care by prescribing the wrong medication to a patient and causing the patient’s death. Or, a driver may breach the standard of care by breaking the law and texting and driving, causing them to be distracted and kill someone. 

Causation

Finally, you must prove that the defendant caused the death by breaching the duty of care.

This means you must prove that the patient in the example died as a direct result of the doctor’s malpractice or that the pedestrian was killed because they were hit by the distracted driver. 

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

Each state has its own laws that determine who can sue for wrongful death.

In most states family members including spouses, children, siblings, parents, and financial dependents can file wrongful death lawsuits if certain conditions are met. Immediate family members are permitted to seek legal compensation for wrongful death in every state. 

Compensation in Wrongful Death Claims

You might be wondering what family members and financial dependents can recover in wrongful death cases. There are two types of damages in these cases – economic and noneconomic.

Economic Damages

These damages are easy to calculate and come with a specific price tag. Losses that can be assigned a monetary value typically include:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Hospice
  • Funeral expenses
  • Assistive equipment 
  • Medical devices
  • Loss of inheritance

Noneconomic Damages

These include damages for losses that are intangible. These are more general and include:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Inconvenience
  • Lost wages of the deceased
  • Emotional trauma
  • Loss of consortium

Pursuing a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death cases usually start out as claims. The goal is to settle with the insurance company of the defendant outside of court. This saves time and money.

But, it’s not always possible to reach a fair settlement. If this happens, you will need to take your case to court. There, a judge or jury will decide whether to award a judgment against the defendant and if so, how much.

To get the most out of your claim, you should have an experienced attorney on your side who specializes in wrongful death lawsuits. An attorney can do the following:

  • Initiate legal action
  • Work to resolve your claim before the statute of limitations
  • Gather evidence to support your case
  • Negotiate with insurance companies and other parties
  • Advise you of and protect your legal rights
  • Represent you in court

It’s important to start working with an attorney as early in the process as possible to make sure you don’t miss any legal deadlines. An attorney can also help you determine whether you have a case. 

Was Your Loved One a Victim of Wrongful Death?

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it can be especially hard when their death didn’t have to happen so soon.

If someone you love died as a result of negligence, you may be able to sue for wrongful death. To learn more about your legal rights to compensation for your economic and non-economic damages, speak with a wrongful death attorney today.

Click here to schedule your free case evaluation.