Wrongful Death FAQ
When a person dies or is killed as the result of someone else's negligence or misconduct, the victim's family may sue for wrongful death. Wrongful death suits may arise under a variety of circumstances. Examples of these circumstances include medical malpractice, car or plane accidents, occupational exposure to hazardous conditions or substances at work, criminal behavior, or death during a supervised activity.
This article provides a brief overview of the most common questions regarding wrongful death lawsuits.
Q: What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?
A: It depends on whether a person dies as a result of the injuries or from unrelated causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person's heirs may recover money through a lawsuit.
Every state has a law permitting an action when someone causes the wrongful death of another. If a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate.
Q: What if an unborn fetus dies?
A: Many states require that a child be born alive in order for its death to be the subject of a wrongful death action, so the death of a fetus might not be actionable. An attorney can tell you what the precise law is in your state.
Q: When someone dies, what is the difference between the civil and criminal cases that can be brought regarding death?
A: A criminal case arises when the government seeks to punish an individual for an act that has been classified as a crime. A civil case, on the other hand, usually has to do with a dispute over the rights and duties that individuals and organizations legally owe to each other. The burden of proof is higher in a criminal case, and the penalty imposed is a criminal sanction such as imprisonment. In a civil case, the defendant will typically have a monetary judgment entered against them.
Q: Are punitive damages recoverable in wrongful death actions?
A: In most states, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. There are some states, however, that do have specific statutes that permit the recovery of punitive damages.
Q: Are all state laws the same regarding wrongful deaths?
A: No, there are many differences among different state wrongful death laws. Determining the state in which you can (and should) bring a wrongful death action is a very important decision because some states do not allow certain types of damage awards and/or may have different statutes of limitation that establish the timeframe within which you must file a lawsuit.
Q: Can I bring a wrongful death action if the deceased never held a job?
A: Yes. Even if the decedent never held a job, they may have contributed in some other way to the family. A good example of such a case is an action for the wrongful death of a stay-at-home spouse who contributes to services, guidance, and nurturing related to the family's well-being. These contributions are quantifiable as "pecuniary losses" in a wrongful death action.
Q: Can someone sue for the pain and suffering of a decedent?
A: Yes. In addition to the wrongful death, a decedent's family may recover damages for the pain and suffering that the decedent endured prior to their death.
Q: Can I bring a wrongful death action based on the death of a child or an elderly person?
A: Yes, you can recover damages in a wrongful death cause of action for the death of either a child or an elderly person. For a variety of reasons, however, the damage awards for both classes of the decedent are usually modest.
Q: Should I get legal help for a wrongful death claim?
Yes, you should absolutely speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney if you believe you have a wrongful death case. If a loved one has died in an accident or injury caused by the negligence or misconduct of another person or company, you may be entitled to bring legal action for wrongful death against those responsible.
Need More Help? Contact an Attorney Today
If you or a loved one has been affected by a wrongful death, it can be very stressful and difficult to handle the legal processes involved in seeking justice. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal rights and potential case. They can assist you with all legal matters related to wrongful deaths.
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