What every family needs to know about a wrongful death case

When someone is killed because of the carelessness or misconduct of another person, the surviving members of the victim's family may bring a "wrongful death" lawsuit.  Wrongful death lawsuits can also be filed against corporations and governmental agencies for their negligence. A wrongful death lawsuit may only be filed by the personal representative of the decedent's estate. This is usually a close family member, like a spouse, adult child or parent. A personal injury attorney can assist in helping the family have a personal representative appointed. Every state has its own unique "wrongful death statute," or set of statutes (laws), that set forth the procedures for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit and the compensation allowed.  Wrongful death laws can vary quite a bit from state to state.  The jury verdict or settlement from a wrongful death lawsuit belong to the estate and will pass to different parties (beneficiaries) as indicated by the decedent's will; or if there is no will, as directed under state law. Typically, the estate passes in order to: 1) the spouse, 2) children and then 3) parents. A wrongful death claim may arise out of a number of situations, for example: automobile accident, defective product or medical malpractice.

Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Financial loss is an important measure of damages in a wrongful death action. This may include the loss of support and services, lost prospect of inheritance, as well as medical and funeral expenses. Most state laws provide that the amount of money allowed for a wrongful death shall be “fair and just” compensation for the financial loss that results from the decedent's death. If the family paid or is responsible for the decedent's funeral or medical care, they may also recover those expenses. Compensation may also include interest from the date of the death. The courts have ruled that it is proper to consider the age, character and condition of the decedent, his or her work history and earning capacity, life expectancy, and health, as well as the circumstances of the beneficiaries. For example, when an adult wage earner with a spouse and minor children dies, the major parts of the recovery are: 1) loss of income, and 2) loss of parental guidance. The jury may consider the decedent's earnings at the time of death, the last known earnings if unemployed and potential future earnings. In some states, punitive damages may be awarded in cases of serious or malicious wrongdoing to punish the defendant and to deter others from behaving badly.

Survival actions for personal injury to the decedent

In addition to damages for wrongful death, the beneficiaries may be able to recover damages for the decedent’s conscious pain and suffering in anticipation of death. These are called "survival actions," since the personal injury action survives the person who suffered the injury. The decedent's personal representative can file a “survival action” together with the wrongful death lawsuit for the benefit of the decedent's estate.

Statute of Limitations

The time limit for bringing a wrongful death lawsuit is called the “statute of limitations” and varies from state to state. Some states have only a one year statute of limitations while the longest is three years. Thus, if the death of a loved one occurred because of the carelessness or misconduct of another, it is important that you contact an attorney right away to determine your rights.

For More Help:

To help families in wrongful death cases, Accident Data Center has a highly qualified attorney (perfect 10.0 AVVO rating) with 20 years’ experience on staff and available to provide a free and impartial case evaluation and answer your questions.    If you request, and if your claim has merit, we will find and associate with the best local attorney for your case to help you obtain the maximum financial recovery. For a free, no obligation, case evaluation, call Accident Data Center toll free at 844-208-6514 or use our easy e-mail form.

Free Accident Report:

Family members can also receive a free copy of the police collision report by by completing our police report request form.    

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