Unexpectedly losing a loved one is a deeply traumatic experience for any family. When this devastating loss was preventable and caused by the negligence or wrongful acts of another, the family's grief and suffering may be even greater.
At the Rothenberg Law Firm LLP, our legal team understands that the loss of a loved one is a painful event for the victim’s family, causing both severe emotional distress and significant economic losses. During this difficult time of financial strain, medical bills and burial expenses add up quickly, placing significant burdens on the accident victim's loved ones.
If you have lost a loved one due to an accident or the wrongful conduct of another, it is critically important to know your legal rights and seek legal representation from a personal injury lawyer who can skillfully navigate your case with care and sensitivity. Our personal injury attorneys are here to provide you with a free case review and consultation and to help you win the monetary compensation you deserve.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death is the legal term used when someone, by action or by failure to act, causes the death of another person. Wrongful death suits are brought as a civil action separate from any criminal charges that may be pursued. As a deceased person cannot pursue compensation for himself or herself, the law permits the victim's family or estate to bring a civil lawsuit to collect damages on their behalf. The intent is to provide fair compensation to family members who have suffered either financially or emotionally due to their loved one's fatal accident. Damages or the court awarded compensation, are assessed by calculating the loss of wages and benefits, loss of companionship, emotional pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
Who can File a Wrongful Death Action?
Different states have different methods for deciding who may file a suit or recover damages for wrongful death. Generally, to have valid grounds for a wrongful death claim, it must be shown that:
- the death was caused, in whole or partially, by another's a wrongful act;
- the victim is survived by a spouse, children, dependents, or beneficiaries;
- if the victim were alive, then he or she would be due damages from the act;
- monetary damages did in fact arise from the act.
Wrongful death lawsuits may only be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. In some cases, the personal representative will be identified in the victim's will and maybe a family member or professional administrator.
When Will a Defendant be Liable for Wrongful Death?
A defendant is only held liable for wrongful death if the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim and if the defendant's conduct is proved to be the cause of the death.
A "duty of care" means that the defendant had a legal obligation to act reasonably and responsibly. Some examples of a “duty of care” are: all drivers have a duty of care to drive safely and soberly, property owners have a duty of care to provide a safe environment, and employers have a duty of care to provide a safe work environment.
Secondly, it must be proven that without the defendant's act or negligence, the death would not have occurred. The time between the defendant's action and the victim's death is not a factor if it can be proven that the defendant's action was the cause of death.
If the victim is shown to be partially responsible for his or her death, they could be found to have been comparatively or contributorily negligent. State laws vary on how to assess liability. States can base this on either comparative negligence, contributory negligence, or a mixture of each. Some states will award damages based on the percentage of fault assigned to the victim.
What Types of Damages are Awarded in a Wrongful Death Claim?
In a wrongful death case, damages are assessed to compensate family members for their losses. There is a wide range of ways to calculate damages. Because damages may be awarded for several different reasons, it is important to examine each individual legal claim carefully. The most obvious losses incurred in a wrongful death case are the concrete costs like medical expenses, funeral expenses, burial costs, and other expenses. These are relatively easy to determine.
Less obvious but equally important is the loss of future earnings, benefits, and loss of companionship. These damages anticipate the lifespan and earnings of the victim and the impact of the death on remaining family members. Such factors make assigning a dollar value on the impact of loss difficult.
Loss of companionship, which includes loss of consortium, seeks to measure non-economic damages like the mental anguish and emotional pain and suffering experienced by the survivors and is very difficult to quantify.
A final area of damages is punitive damages, which are awarded to punish the defendant, rather than to compensate for a specific loss. They are typically awarded when the action of the defendant was intentional or grossly negligent. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and to dissuade others from committing similar acts in the future.
Are there Different Kinds of Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
Any negligent, careless, or reckless act that causes the death of another person can form the basis of a wrongful death action. These are some of the most common claims and legal actions:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents - Sadly, car accidents and motorcycle accidents are some of the most frequent causes of wrongful death lawsuits. Intoxicated drivers guilty of drunk driving cause many of the worst accidents. Distracted drivers, too, have been the liable party in many of these actions as well.
- Medical Malpractice - Medical malpractice claims are brought when the medical negligence of a doctor, nurse, medical professional, or hospital causes harm to a patient and often leads to wrongful death lawsuits. Medical malpractice can include nursing home abuse, surgical error, birth injuries, and incorrect medical records.
- Product Defects - Defective products, faulty products, and products that fail to provide adequate warnings or instructions, such as defective medical devices, may form the basis of a personal injury claim or, in case of accidental death, a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Workplace Accidents - Workplace accidents, particularly at construction sites, often form the basis for a wrongful death claim.
- Slips and Falls - Slip, and fall situations are a common type of wrongful death lawsuit. When victims fall due to an icy patch, crack, or pothole on a defendant's property, it may be possible to initiate a premises liability lawsuit against the property owner.
Can I Afford to Consult a Wrongful Death Attorney?
If you or someone you love has suffered as a result of wrongful death, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP for a free case evaluation by filling out a contact form online at InjuryLawyer.com or by calling our phone number, 1-800-624-8888. The initial consultation is FREE of charge. If we agree to handle your case, we will do so on a contingency fee basis. There is no legal fee unless we are successful in getting you money.
These lawsuits must often be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a Statute of Limitations. It is important, therefore, to please call or contact us immediately so that you do not forego your rights to financial compensation and other benefits.