Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The death of a loved one through the fault of another can be a devastating emotional blow for families. Many will face a dire financial future after the untimely death, to say nothing of the immediate costs that may be incurred in the form of unpaid medical bills and funeral expenses. While no amount of money can ever bring the person back, the law provides remedies that can go some way toward making bereaved family members whole again by providing monetary damages and a sense of justice having been done when a person dies as a result of a negligent act.
At Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP, we have a wealth of experience with wrongful death cases and understand the pain you and your family are going through. We’re ready to put our extensive skills to work for you today, placing the focus on you and your family’s needs with compassion and understanding while aggressively seeking any and all compensation to which you’re entitled.
What is Wrongful Death?
The law uses the term ‘wrongful death’ to mean a type of civil action or claim against a person or corporation for causing another person’s death, whether negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. A wrongful death may arise as a result of an automobile accident, medical malpractice, a faulty product, or a criminal act, just to name a few.
Wrongful death is a civil matter, as opposed to a criminal matter. This distinction is important for many reasons:
First, a civil judgment against an at-fault party in a wrongful death lawsuit does not entail imprisonment or fines, but instead requires the defendant to pay the injured party monetary compensation and sometimes punitive damages.
Second, a judgment against a defendant in a wrongful death case will be awarded when the plaintiff proves the defendant was at fault ‘by a preponderance of the evidence.’ A preponderance of the evidence is often described simply as “more likely than not.” This is a much lower threshold than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that is required for a criminal conviction. Therefore, even if a jury acquits someone in a murder or manslaughter (criminal) case, the family of the decedent can still prevail against the defendant in a civil suit for wrongful death.
Third, there is no requirement in a wrongful death case to prove that the defendant intended to cause a person’s death. It need only be proved that the defendant acted negligently, that is, that they failed in their duty of care to the person who died as a result.
Fourth, since a corporation is not a natural person under the law, a corporation cannot be convicted of murder, but that same corporation can be held liable for a person’s wrongful death if they acted in a way that negligently brought about that person’s death, such as selling a product they knew was defective or dangerous.
Lastly, in some instances, the evidence uncovered during the discovery phase of a wrongful death lawsuit has led to criminal charges being brought against the responsible party or parties. For surviving family members, this may bring an even greater sense of justice having been served.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Claim?
Although state laws vary, it is typically the estate of the person who has died that brings the wrongful death case, and that estate is represented by either an Executor or an Administrator, on behalf of those who would inherit from the decedent’s estate.
If the person has died with an executed Last Will and Testament, the Executor is named in that document. If a person dies without a Will, an Administrator must be appointed by a Surrogate’s Court in the county where the decedent lived. The attorneys at Martin, Harding & Mazzotti, LLP, can help you with this process.
Some states will allow you to bring a wrongful death claim directly if you are a surviving spouse or child of the deceased, whereas others will permit more distant relatives to do so if there is no spouse or children. The advice of a qualified attorney that works in your jurisdiction is essential in determining who can bring a case for wrongful death.
What Kind of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Case?
Again, while states vary, a decedent’s estate or close family member can seek to recover “fair and just compensation” for the financial injuries that have been suffered because of the death. This generally includes loss of income, loss of support, loss of assistance, and any possible inheritance for surviving family members and dependents.
The amount that can be recovered varies greatly depending upon many factors, such as a person’s relationship to the decedent. For instance, a spouse may seek recovery for the loss of the decedent’s future income and their services around the home, while a child may seek compensation for the loss of a parent’s guidance. Expert testimony is typically used to establish these amounts.
A wrongful death claim can also seek to recover:
- Reasonable funeral expenses already paid by survivors,
- Compensation for the pain and suffering of the decedent, if any amount of time, however small, passed between the injury and death of the decedent,
- Reasonable medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury that led to the death, and
- Punitive damages, intended to punish the defendant for egregious or wanton conduct, if the decedent could have recovered those damages had they survived.
- Note that surviving family members will not be able to receive compensation for their pain, suffering, and anguish.
What Sort of Proof is Required in a Wrongful Death Case?
Wrongful death claims are very similar to personal injury claims in the type of proof required to prevail. The evidence must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, (see above), that the decedent’s death was caused by the “wrongful conduct or default” of another and would have allowed the decedent to pursue their own cause of action if they had survived.
To be more precise, a plaintiff must prove that the at-fault party owed the decedent a “duty of care,” that the defendant breached that duty by their action or failure to act, that the breach of that duty caused the injuries that led to the untimely death, and that real, measurable damages were suffered as a result.
The type of evidence needed for a successful claim depends a great deal on whether the death was the result of medical malpractice, a vehicle accident, a construction accident, a defective product, a defective medical device, defective drugs, nursing home negligence, slip and fall incidents, or another type of case. These cases can often be very complex and require outside experts and information obtained through a thorough process known as “discovery.” Our attorneys have extensive experience in all of these areas and more and have obtained numerous verdicts and settlements that have helped people just like you after the tragic death of a loved one.
Because the Statute of Limitations for some actions is as short as two years from the date of the injury that led to the death, you must seek qualified legal counsel as soon as possible. That way, evidence can be preserved and the recollection of any witnesses will still be fresh. Our attorneys will evaluate your case and give you an idea of the type and amount of compensation that may be available to you, as well as the potential timeline for obtaining that compensation. We will also act on your behalf as your advocate, speaking with the at-fault party, their attorney, and any insurance companies so that you don’t have to.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation by calling 1-800-LAW-1010 (1-800-529-1010). We’re here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call or use our convenient online contact form here.