If your loved one died as a result of another person’s actions, your primary focus is on healing from your loss. Still, it’s important to hold the other party accountable for their actions, and recover the financial compensation that you are rightfully owed.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
You may think the term wrongful death is simple, but there are some legal elements of the term that might not be intuitive. Wrongful generally means a death that was not legally justified. This is because some deaths are legally justified. For example, if you kill another person in self defense, that is not wrongful death-because the law justifies you killing that person.
A person can be held liable for the wrongful death of your loved one from intentional actions, reckless actions, and negligent actions. These all have different legal meanings, but ultimately if someone acts in a way they shouldn’t, and your loved one lost their life because of it, you may have a viable action for wrongful death.
Who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit?
In most lawsuits, an injured person is the one who files the lawsuit against the person or company responsible. But a wrongful death lawsuit is unique because it allows a loved one to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the injured individual.
Typically, a wrongful death lawsuit is brought by the surviving spouse. If there is no spouse, the next of kin would bring the lawsuit. In some instances, the executor of the estate or a judge-appointed representative of the deceased may bring the lawsuit. This typically happens when there are surviving children, but no surviving spouse or next of kin who can bring the lawsuit in their place.
Choosing who will bring the lawsuit is a very big decision, as this person will be acting in the interest of every loved one. For example, if the wife brings a cause of action, she is also responsible for representing the loss their children and her in-laws face as a result of her husband’s death.
She would be responsible for ensuring the financial gains are allocated appropriately and makes all of the major decisions—including which attorney to hire and if they want to take a settlement offer.
What happens if you win a wrongful death lawsuit?
Nothing will bring your loved one back, but you can win financial damages to ease the burden of life without them, and hold the responsible person or company accountable. The amount of financial damages varies from case to case, and is determined by factors like whether the person killed was their family’s primary financial provider.
Generally, a civil lawsuit is designed to make you whole again after a loss. In the case of wrongful death, that can’t truly happen because it won’t bring your loved one back. The main goal is to ensure you are made whole financially. The court calculates that amount by determining how much to award you for multiple things, including:
- Medical expenses (care received prior to death)
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of income / loss of future income
- Punitive damages to punish the negligent party (in rare cases of extreme disregard for human life or safety)
Medical and funeral expenses are easy to calculate—the court simply looks at how much you are out of pocket for both.
Other amounts, such as loss of income and punitive damages, are much harder to calculate. How can you forecast what your loved one would have made for the rest of their life? Would they have gotten a promotion? Would they have finished school and received a higher paying position? There are many factors the court must consider when determining the loss of income.
Similarly, determining punitive damages can be difficult. Punitive damages are designed to punish the individual responsible, and are typically significantly higher than the damages you would otherwise receive. They are only awarded when there has been egregious wrongdoing, and estimating the amount is subjective.
That being said, the amount awarded for punitive damages tends to be fairly high, and is completely dependent on how the other person behaved in regard to the life of your loved one. Accidents that result in a death are not likely to be awarded punitive damages, whereas people who intentionally chose to disregard human life would see significant amounts of punitive damages.
This means that if someone is driving while under the influence of methamphetamine and kills your loved one, you are likely to receive punitive damages. However, if your loved one is killed in a car accident while the person is speeding 10 over the speed limit, they are still responsible, but they did not intentionally kill your loved one, so punitive damages are less likely.
How do I initiate a wrongful death lawsuit?
Your first step is to hire an attorney. An experienced attorney will guide you through the process and answer any questions you have about what to expect. They can also help you determine whether or not you have a case.
Will I win?
This is very fact specific and depends on many factors. Ultimately, the best thing to do to determine if you are likely to succeed in a lawsuit is hire an attorney who can analyze your case and use their experience to figure out how likely you are to win your case.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, the court system can’t bring back your loved one, and it can’t make your grief go away. However, it can hold the other person accountable for their actions and provide you financial compensation to ease the burden of facing life without your loved one. If you believe you may have a cause of action for wrongful death, give us a call and we would be happy to guide you through the process of getting justice.
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