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There are different situations where your loved one could tragically be killed that might lead you to have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Truck accidents are one example. In just one recent year, more than 4,100 people died due to truck crashes. The occupants of the trucks made up 16% of the deaths, and 67% of the deaths were occupants of other cars and passenger vehicles.
If your loved one dies and it’s the result of someone else’s action or inaction, filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you cover the costs associated with the accident. Wrongful death lawsuits can also help make up for things like loss of income and loss of companionship.
The following are things to know about the steps and processes involved in a wrongful death lawsuit.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is brought when someone dies due to another person’s negligent or intentional act.
With a wrongful death claim, the estate of the deceased person’s relatives can file a lawsuit. The specific laws for wrongful death lawsuits depend on the state. They are most often filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased person. The representative can file the lawsuit on behalf of the people affected by the death.
There are certain scenarios where a wrongful death claim might be an option, including:
- If someone is intentionally killed, you might file a wrongful death lawsuit. This would be a separate civil case unrelated to a potential criminal case.
- Medical malpractice is when a doctor fails to diagnose a medical condition or when their care is sub-par or outside of the typical standard of care. It can lead to a patient’s death, and if this is the case, it might be possible for the surviving family to file a wrongful death suit.
- Car accidents resulting in fatalities are a frequent reason family and loved ones file wrongful death suits.
These are examples, but wrongful death lawsuits aren’t limited to the above scenarios. A wrongful death claim can arise from nearly any personal injury. The biggest exception is injuries that lead to death occurring at work. That would likely go through worker’s compensation.
Who Can File a Claim?
As has been touched on, the most common situation when filing a wrongful death lawsuit is that an estate representative would file a claim on behalf of survivors.
The survivors have to have a certain relationship with the decedent, outlined in state law.
In every state, a spouse has the standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
The same is true of minors’ parents, and minors can also receive compensation because of a parent’s death.
There are differences between states regarding whether or not the parents of an adult child can sue for wrongful death and whether adult children can sue for the death of their parent.
There are also differences between states as far as siblings and extended relatives.
The more distant the relationship between family members, the more challenging it is to bring a wrongful death case forward.
In some states, if you aren’t married but you are romantic partners, you can file a wrongful death claim. Also, some states allow for a wrongful death claim for anyone who had financial dependence on the person who passed away.
In some states, a fetus’s death can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit, but in others, this isn’t allowed.
The damages are the types of loss you might be able to receive compensation for in a wrongful death claim.
Frequent wrongful death damages are:
- The pain and suffering the deceased person might have gone through before their death. This is usually known as a survival claim.
- The costs of the medical treatments for a deceased person that they went through before their death.
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of anticipated income
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of care or nurturing
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Value of services that would have been provided by the deceased person
Who Can Be Sued?
Wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against people, government agencies, and employees, and companies.
If your loved one was killed in a truck accident, for example, they might sue the driver or their employer.
A government agency that doesn’t provide warnings about road hazards leading to an accident can be sued. If a wrongful death situation involves impairment, the person who gave alcohol to the impaired driver may be sued, or the owner of the premises where the alcohol was provided.
What Has to Be Proven for a Successful Claim?
The plaintiff, usually through the decedent estate, has to meet a certain burden of proof. They would have to show that someone owed a duty of care to the deceased person and that they breached it.
How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Each state has a statute of limitations for wrongful death claims.
A statute of limitations is essentially how long you have to file a lawsuit.
A statute of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit, regardless of the state, is no shorter than a year from the victim’s death. If there was a government agency or government employee involved, you might have to file something like a notice of claim with the government within 90 days.
If you lost a loved one and you think you could have a wrongful death claim, it’s important to speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. If you don’t do so within the window of time outlined by state law, and you don’t follow the proper notice requirements, you might lose the right to bring a claim forward.
If you hire a lawyer for a wrongful death claim, they are almost always going to work on a contingency basis, so they aren’t paid if you don’t recover anything. You don’t have to pay them upfront, but they take a percentage of the damages you recover.