Wrongful death charges may be pursued when a death occurs due to the fault of another person or entity (such as a car manufacturer or drug company) and criminal action has not been successful in holding the responsible party accountable. In such situations, a skilled personal injury attorney can assist the loved ones of the deceased in seeking compensation for the severe loss they have suffered.
What compensation can be sought in cases of wrongful death?
While obviously the pain of a close family member is immeasurable, there are concrete costs involved. Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation in three categories: economic, non-economic and punitive.
- Economic damages include lost wages (present and future), funeral expenses, loss of medical coverage or pension plans, and even loss of goods and services.
- Non-economic damages include mental pain and suffering, and, depending on the nature of the relationship to the deceased, loss of care, protection, guidance and nurturing, love, companionship or consortium.
- Punitive damages are awarded as punishment to the defendant for egregious behavior. Such damages are often awarded in cases of nursing home abuse or apparently criminal behavior that the courts have not punished (think O.J. Simpson).
In addition, survivors can sometimes recover interest and attorneys’ fees
How are wrongful death damages calculated?
Calculating damages can be complicated, requiring the use of expert witnesses. These calculations may include monetary value assigned to services and care provided inside the home by a homemaker parent, such as childcare, house cleaning and transportation, as well as income and benefits earned through a parent’s employment outside the home.
How is wrongful death proved?
In order to prove wrongful death, it is necessary that a person or entity be found legally responsible for the death of another. The concept of wrongful death is relatively new, having arisen during the last century in the U.S. as opposed to having been part of the “Common Law” we originally imported from England. At present, all states in this country have some type of wrongful death law. Negligence or intention must be proved, meaning that the person accused must have failed to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.
Types of Wrongful Death Claims
A variety of wrongful death claims may be brought against parties considered legally responsible for the deaths of others. These include:
- Drivers or employers of drivers in accidents involving negligence, recklessness or malice
- Medical professionals or facilities that have engaged in medical malpractice
- Manufacturers who have distributed or installed faulty products (product liability)
- Designers, builders or those tasked with maintaining roadways with defects
- Construction companies responsible for defective structures
- Government agencies that fail to warn or protect consumers about known dangers
- Sellers or distributors or alcohol or narcotics that result in death
- Property owners or renters who fail to keep their premises safe (premise liability)
- Individuals found liable for a death who may or may not have been convicted of a crime
Who can sue for wrongful death?
The fact that you have lost someone you love does not necessarily mean that you can file a wrongful death claim. Only survivors defined by law as “real parties of interest,” those considered to be individuals who will suffer damage as a result of the death of the deceased, are permitted to file a wrongful death case. These people include:
- Immediate family members (spouses, children, parents of unmarried children)
- Life partners, financial dependents, or those who believe they are married to the deceased
Exceptions and Irregularities in Wrongful Death Laws
In some states, siblings, grandparents, or others who will suffer financially as a result of the death also have the right to file a wrongful death suit. There are also some states in which parents can file a wrongful death suit as a result of the death of a fetus. In some states, government agencies and employees are exempt from responsibility in certain wrongful death cases. These discrepancies make the choice of a highly knowledgeable personal attorney essential.
Time Limits for Wrongful Death Claims
Each state sets its own statute of limitations for bringing wrongful death lawsuits. Generally, the rule is that the lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date of the misconduct that led to the death.