Losing a loved one is an especially melancholy experience that most people have to go through at some point in their lives, however, it can be even harder if their death was sudden, unforeseen and the fault of another person. If the case for wrongful death can be proven then the family of the victim may sue for compensation.
Wrongful death laws serve the purpose of gaining financial support for families of victims, especially orphans and widows, so if you find yourself in the distressing situation of losing a family member due to unlawful death, here is a guide to the relevant laws and how to successfully gain compensation.
What is Defined as Wrongful Death?
The simplest way to define a wrongful death is to view it as a personal injury case that resulted in a death. In such cases, the wrongful death lawyers at Madia Law explain that if the person had survived they would likely have filed a lawsuit themselves, therefore when bereavement is involved the victim’s family or estate has the right to sue. Statutes governing wrongful death vary from state to state, although generally there are several instances when a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed, the most common of which will be explained in more detail below.
Murder or Intentional Killing
In cases where the victim was murdered or intentionally killed, the family can file a civil lawsuit for damages. The claims made in a civil lawsuit are separate from the criminal case and the result of the two cases are not dependant so even if the defendant is found innocent of murder in a criminal court they can still be pursued in a civil court.
When a person is believed to have died due to medical malpractice such as misdiagnosis or negligent treatment, a family has the right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death against the doctor and healthcare provider. Proving medical malpractice can be difficult as medical practitioners are allowed some degree of human error under the law. That being said, if negligence and poor quality of care are obvious then the family has a good basis for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Road traffic accidents are one of the major causes of preventable death in the United States and quite often they are the fault of a negligent driver that caused the incident as a result of being distracted, intoxicated, disobeying traffic laws, tiredness and reckless driving.
Work-Related Accidents and Disease
Construction, industrial and manufacturing jobs are much more dangerous compared to most other occupations, therefore workplace accidents leading to death are not uncommon in these sectors. There are several kinds of accidents where employers can be held liable and sued for wrongful death for example fatal accidents may be caused by faulty machinery or falling from a height.
Other accidents that can warrant the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit include accidental poisoning, defective products, drowning accidents, nursing home abuse and premises liability.
Who Can File a Lawsuit?
Under current laws, a claim can be filed by the family member or representative of the deceased person’s estate, although different states have varying rules on which family members can sue for wrongful death. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the individuals that file a claim are referred to as the “real parties in interest”, and even though laws relating to wrongful death vary from state to state they generally cover:
- Close family members including biological and adopted children, parents and spouses
- Financial dependants
- Domestic partners
- Parents of deceased children
- Widows and widowers
- Distant family members
How Can You Prove Wrongful Death?
Since wrongful death cases are similar to personal injury lawsuits, the relatives or estate of the deceased will have to collect evidence and present a set of facts with the assistance of a lawyer specializing in wrongful death lawsuits. For example, if a death was caused by negligence they would have to provide evidence that the defendant failed in their duty of care that they owed to the deceased to prove the death was preventable.
Components of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When filing a lawsuit for wrongful death the claimants and their lawyer must follow a legal process to ensure the case is won. This process involves proving four facts:
- Negligence. The claimant must provide evidence proving the victim died due to the fault of another person and not their own actions. Whether the death was caused by intention, negligence or recklessness, the lawsuit must show unarguable proof of liability.
- Breach of duty. It must be proven by the claimant that the defendant had a duty of care to the victim, for example, an owner of a manufacturing plant owes a duty of safety to their employees.
- Causation. It is vital that the claimant then proves that the defendant’s negligent actions directly caused the victim’s death. For example, if it is suspected that a driver caused a fatal accident as a result of intoxication then the claimant must gather evidence from the police to prove it.
- Damages and suffering. As well as causing severe emotional and mental damage, wrongful death also often causes financial pressures on the bereaved family due to funeral costs, medical expenses, lost salaries or wages.
The vast majority of wrongful death cases are settled out of court, this may happen for several reasons, for example, either the claimant or defendant may wish to avoid further distress that could be caused by media coverage or a lengthy trial. In addition, settling civil lawsuits before they reach trial generally costs less in legal fees. In terms of settlement options, there are two paths the lawsuit could take; mediation or arbitration.
Mediation involves both parties discussing the case with a professional mediator who will assist them in deciding on a fair figure for compensation. Arbitration on the other hand is when a judge or professional arbiter hears the case from both parties throughout multiple meetings to gather information and facts so they can make a fair and reasonable ruling. Oftentimes, the verdict of the ruling is final, however, occasionally rulings are non-binding, especially if both parties disagree with it. At this point, either party can appeal and choose to take the case to court.
Losing a spouse or family member is a traumatic time under normal circumstances, however, this is often multiplied in the case of wrongful death which is usually unexpected and sudden. Therefore, if you have lost a loved one due to another person’s negligence then it is worth taking time to read up on your right to file a wrongful death lawsuit and the process involved.