What are Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
State law permits wrongful death lawsuits when an individual’s death was caused by the negligent or reckless action of another party. Wrongful deaths are often the result of recklessness, negligence, or deliberate behavior that ends in a fatality. Negligence is often defined as a failure of an individual or entity to behave prudently and reasonably in a way others would in similar circumstances.
A claim for wrongful death is a civil action filed by the decedent’s close relatives. Tort law in the state determines who can legally sue for financial compensation.
Proving the Claim
Wrongful deaths follow the state’s common law. As a civil action, a wrongful death must be proved by a preponderance of evidence. This means that a specific legal standard must be met proving the defendant’s action or omission of action was negligent. Civil action is different from criminal cases where a defendant can only be found guilty through clear and convincing evidence, where all facts prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
A claim for wrongful death is applicable when the deceased is killed through the act of intentionally wanting to inflict harm, or through negligence. These types of situations could include:
- Accident fatality that involves negligence, carelessness or recklessness
- Victims that have died due to medical malpractice or prescription error
- Victims that have died due to a manufacturer’s negligence in designing, producing, distributing and selling a faulty product
- Victims that are intentionally killed
These types of cases are complex, and often require the skills of an experienced attorney. The lawyer must prove that the defendant in the suit had a duty of care toward the decedent; that the defendant’s actions or omissions of actions breached obvious standards of care; that the negligent parties’ actions were the direct (proximate) cause of the decedent’s mortal injuries or death, which resulted in damages.
Legal Heirs and Beneficiaries
Only the heirs and beneficiaries of the deceased victim can file a suit for wrongful death. This means the suit can only be filed by individuals named in the decedent’s will, or by those that have a claim of provable loss. In most incidences, beneficiaries will include spouses, children, parents, and other close family members.
If the beneficiaries are minor children without surviving parents, the court will usually appoint a legal guardian to protect their rights and interests associated with the lawsuit. Grandparents caring from minor child might have the legal right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death just as a surviving parent could.
Common Wrongful Death Claims
When a defendant of a wrongful death lawsuit is found legally responsible and accountable for their negligent actions, it is usually because they breached a standard duty of care. Often times, that breach is a result of not acting like a reasonable individual in a variety of scenarios, which could include reckless action in a:
- Automobile accident
- Commercial truck accident
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents
- Motorcycle accident
- Defective product
- Dangerous prescription medications
- Medication error
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injuries
- Slip and fall negligence
- Fatal abuse in a nursing home/assisted living facility
- Premises liability
- Construction accident
- Workplace incident
Wrongful death lawsuits are handled significantly different from a standard negligent suit. Tort law is specific in defining survivors that can make a claim of financial loss that might include medical expenses, funeral and burial costs along with loss of the decedent’s guidance, care and nurturing. Survivors can also make a claim for loss of companionship, love and consortium, lost wages and future earning potential, along with mental anguish, suffering and pain in dealing with the death of a loved one killed through a negligent act.
The state allows wrongful death lawsuits to help survivors cope with the demise of a loved one killed through negligence, and to recover financial costs generated by their death. Most experienced attorneys offer survivors a free consultation to discuss the merits of the case. When hired, the lawyer will investigate the death to help families obtain compensation and justice for the negligent actions of the responsible party who caused their premature death.