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Wrongful Death FAQ

When a person dies because 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
  • Motorcycle accidents or car accidents
  • Occupational exposure to hazardous conditions or substances at work
  • Criminal behavior
  • Death during a supervised activity
  • Other torts (civil wrongs) resulting from accidental or intentional acts

This article briefly overviews the most common questions regarding wrongful death lawsuits. Following are frequently asked questions about disclaimers and other important facts relating to these injury claims.

Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit?

The surviving family members of the person who died (the decedent) can bring a complaint against the at-fault party. Loved ones include the surviving spouse or the deceased's children. In some states, the court-appointed personal representative of the decedent can bring a wrongful death claim. These types of cases will seek financial compensation for wrongful death damages, including:

  • Funeral expenses (including burial expenses)
  • Loss of companionship
  • Medical bills (medical expenses)
  • The financial support the decedent was providing to their family

An insurance company may cover a defendant who committed a wrongful act. For example, the decedent's medical records may show that their care providers are responsible for the cause of death. In that case, the wrongful death settlement's beneficiaries may collect damages from the at-fault care provider's insurance.

What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

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 usually survives. The executor or personal representative of the deceased person's estate may bring the claim.

Can I bring a wrongful death action based on the death of a child or an elderly person?

Yes, you can recover damages in a wrongful death cause of action for the death of either a child or an elderly person. For various reasons, however, the damage awards for both classes of the decedent are usually modest.

What if an unborn fetus dies?

Many states require that a child be born alive for its death to be the subject of a wrongful death action. The death of a fetus might not be actionable. An attorney can tell you what the precise law is in your state.

What is the difference between civil and criminal cases concerning a death?

A criminal case arises when the government seeks to punish an individual for an act classified as a crime. A civil case, on the other hand, usually involves a dispute over the rights and duties that individuals and organizations legally owe to one another. 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 may be liable for financially compensating the injured party.

Are punitive damages available in wrongful death actions?

Punitive damages or exemplary damages are designed to punish a wrongdoer who acted recklessly in connection with a death. They may be awarded to the plaintiff in addition to compensatory damages designed to make the plaintiff whole. In some states, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. Some states, however, have specific statutes (laws) that permit the recovery of punitive damages.

Are all state laws the same regarding wrongful death?

No, there are many differences among different state wrongful death laws. Determining the state where you can (and should) bring a wrongful death action is important. 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.

Can I bring a wrongful death action if the deceased never held a job?

Yes. Even if the decedent (person who died) 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
  • Companionship and nurturing related to the family's well-being

These contributions are quantifiable as pecuniary losses in a wrongful death action. You may hire expert witnesses to testify about your losses.

Can someone sue for the pain and suffering of a decedent?

Yes. In addition to the wrongful death, a decedent's family may recover damages for the pain and suffering that the decedent endured before their death.

How is the decedent's estate handled after a wrongful death?

When a person passes away, the law looks to their will and/or trust for instructions on how to dispose of their assets. If the person dies intestate (without a will or trust), their estate will be disposed through the probate codes of the state in which they were domiciled. Check out our estate planning section for more information.

Should I get legal help for a wrongful death claim?

Understandably, your life may have been turned upside-down since your loved one's date of death. You should speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney if you believe you have a case. Suppose a loved one has died in an accident or injury caused by the negligence or misconduct of another person or company. In that case, you may be entitled to bring legal action for wrongful death against those responsible.

Need More Help? Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer

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 of seeking justice. Get legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your rights and potential case. A personal injury lawyer can assist you with all legal matters related to wrongful deaths.

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