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  • Writer's pictureMcNickle & Bonner

What to Know About a Wrongful Death Case

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience, and it can be even more challenging when the death was caused by someone else’s negligence or intentional actions. In such cases, pursuing a wrongful death claim can help families seek justice and compensation for their loss. Understanding the intricacies of wrongful death cases is crucial for those considering this legal route. Here’s what you need to know about wrongful death cases.

1. Definition of Wrongful Death

A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity. This can include negligence, reckless behavior, or intentional acts. Common situations leading to wrongful death claims include medical malpractice, automobile accidents, workplace accidents, defective products, and criminal acts.

2. Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Not everyone can file a wrongful death claim. The eligibility to file a lawsuit is typically limited to close family members and sometimes legal representatives. The specific parties who can file a wrongful death claim vary by state but usually include:

  • Spouses: The surviving spouse of the deceased.

  • Children: Biological and sometimes adopted children of the deceased.

  • Parents: If the deceased was a minor, the parents can file a claim.

  • Siblings and Extended Family: In some states, siblings, grandparents, or other extended family members may be eligible.

Additionally, some states allow the executor or administrator of the deceased's estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

3. Proving a Wrongful Death Case

To succeed in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove several elements:

  • Duty of Care: The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased.

  • Breach of Duty: The defendant breached this duty through negligent or intentional actions.

  • Causation: The breach of duty directly caused the death.

  • Damages: The death resulted in quantifiable damages, such as financial losses or emotional suffering.

Gathering evidence to support these elements is crucial. This can include medical records, eyewitness testimony, expert witness opinions, and documentation of financial losses.

4. Types of Compensation

Compensation in wrongful death cases can cover a variety of losses, which are generally divided into two categories: economic and non-economic damages.

Economic Damages:

  • Medical Expenses: Costs incurred for medical treatment prior to death.

  • Funeral and Burial Costs: Expenses related to the deceased's funeral and burial.

  • Lost Income: The deceased’s lost wages and future earnings.

  • Loss of Benefits: Loss of pension, insurance, and other benefits.

Non-Economic Damages:

  • Pain and Suffering: Emotional distress suffered by the deceased prior to death.

  • Loss of Companionship: Loss of love, companionship, and support to the family.

  • Mental Anguish: Emotional trauma experienced by the surviving family members.

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior and to deter similar conduct in the future.

5. Statute of Limitations

Every state has a statute of limitations, which is the time limit within which you must file a wrongful death claim. This period typically ranges from one to three years from the date of death, but it can vary depending on the jurisdiction and specific circumstances of the case. It’s crucial to be aware of these time limits, as failing to file within the statutory period can result in losing the right to pursue a claim.

6. Choosing the Right Attorney

Navigating a wrongful death case can be complex and emotionally taxing. It’s essential to work with an experienced wrongful death attorney who can provide legal guidance, help gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent your interests in court. When choosing an attorney, consider their experience with wrongful death cases, their track record of success, and their approach to client communication and support.

7. The Legal Process

The wrongful death legal process generally involves several steps:

  1. Investigation: The attorney will gather evidence, consult with experts, and build a strong case.

  2. Filing the Lawsuit: The attorney will file a formal complaint in court.

  3. Discovery: Both sides exchange information and gather further evidence.

  4. Negotiation and Settlement: Many wrongful death cases are settled out of court through negotiation.

  5. Trial: If a settlement cannot be reached, the case proceeds to trial, where a judge or jury will determine the outcome.

A wrongful death case is a legal pathway to seek justice and compensation for the untimely loss of a loved one. Understanding the basics of wrongful death claims, including who can file, the types of compensation available, and the legal process involved, is crucial for families facing this difficult situation. With the help of a skilled attorney, you can navigate the complexities of the legal system and work towards achieving a measure of closure and financial relief.


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