Wrongful death cases are among the most unfortunate personal injury lawsuits. When someone dies because of the negligent or intentional actions of another party, that person’s surviving loved ones and dependents may seek monetary compensation for that loss.
But, when people begin the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit, they have many questions, and they likely still feel emotional about the victim’s death. This blog answers common questions about wrongful death cases to arm you with information that can help you feel calmer and more confident about the legal situation you face.
What Are Common Examples of Wrongful Death?
In a worst case scenario, many types of personal injury can end in the victim’s death. Consequently, many examples of wrongful death overlap with personal injury cases. Some examples of wrongful death include the following:
- When a patient dies because of medical malpractice, such as a surgical error, a failure to diagnose a life-threatening condition, or the administration of an incorrect medication
- When a driver or passenger dies after a car accident that was caused by another person
- When someone dies after using a product that had dangerous design flaws or manufacturing errors
- When an employee receives a fatal but preventable injury in the work place, often due to unsafe working conditions or faulty equipment When a nursing home resident dies because of abuse or negligent care
As the list above shows, wrongful death cases can be heartbreaking, and they can occur in many situations.
What Must You Prove in a Wrongful Death Case?
Many wrongful death cases are settled out of court, but if the case goes to trial, the lawyers must prove certain facts about the victim’s death. These facts follow a logical order, meaning they generally must be established in order.
- Duty of Care
This term refers to the duty the defendant had to protect the victim from harm. For example, an employer has a duty of care to ensure employees have a safe working environment. A wrongful death attorney must show that the duty of care existed; otherwise, the defendant cannot be held liable for the death.
- Breach of Duty
If the duty of care exists, the lawyer must establish that the defendant breached that duty. This breach can occur in numerous ways, such as not following traffic laws, not performing adequate safety testing on consumer products, or not repairing malfunctioning equipment on a construction site.
Finally, the wrongful death lawyer must prove that the breach of duty-and the breach of duty alone-caused the victim’s death. Sometimes proving causation is difficult if additional factors complicate the case. For example, in truck accident, the defendant may have been speeding when the crash occurred, but the lawyer must show that problems with the victim’s car didn’t contribute to the accident.
What Types of Damages Can You Seek?
The plaintiff in a wrongful death case can request various types of damages. The primary type of compensation awarded is known as pecuniary damages. Pecuniary damages include any expenses that the plaintiff had to cover after the victim’s death, such as:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral costs
- Loss of financial support
- Lost prospect of inheritance
The last two bullet points compensate the victim’s survivors if they depended on the victim’s earnings. For example, if an adult wage earner suffers a wrongful death and has young children, those children could be awarded pecuniary damages because they depended on their parent’s income for basic survival needs.
Compensation in a wrongful death case may also include punitive damages. The judge or jury may award this type of compensation if the wrongful death included serious or malicious wrongdoing. Punitive damages serve to punish the defendant for his or her actions, and they may also deter others from taking similar actions because they would likely have to pay similar punitive damages.
Some states do not allow punitive damages. Your attorney will advise you if punitive damages are allowed in your state and whether you can seek them.
Can a Defendant in a Wrongful Death Case Also Face Criminal Charges?
Sometimes the circumstances around a wrongful death also involve illegal actions. For example, murder and manslaughter could also be classified as wrongful death cases. In these situations, the defendant sometimes faces both criminal charges and a civil wrongful death suit.
The most well-known example of this situation is the O.J. Simpson trials. He was first tried for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The jury acquitted him of those charges. However, in the civil wrongful death trial, he was held liable for the deaths of those two individuals. The court ordered Simpson to pay $33.5 million to the victims’ families.
What Is the Statue of Limitations on Wrongful Death Suits?
One important fact to be aware of with wrongful death suits is the statute of limitations. This legal term refers to the limited time a party has to file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations on wrongful death suits varies from state to state. The limit is usually between one to six years after the victim’s death. Because of these limits, you should speak to a lawyer right away about wrongful death cases.
If you believe someone you love suffered a wrongful death, contact Gregg Durlofsky. He can consult with you on your legal options and help you seek compensation for you loss.