When someone is killed because of another person’s negligence or misconduct, it’s called “wrongful death.” Some situations that may produce a wrongful death lawsuit include motor vehicle accidents, chemical exposure, manufacturing defects, medical malpractice, and various forms of criminal activity.
How a Wrongful Death Case Works
Wrongful death is its own kind of civil action and is separate from criminal charges, though there may still be criminal prosecution related to the death of the person. The standard of proof is lower in these cases than it would be for murder or manslaughter. (An important note: there are certain agencies in special cases that have government immunity from prosecution in wrongful death cases.)
A typical wrongful death case starts when a representative files a lawsuit against the negligent party in civil court. Each state has its own criteria and procedure for these lawsuits. Depending on where the suit is located, spouses, children, and parents of children who are not married may act as a representative. Other states may allow siblings and grandparents to make a claim.
The representative must then prove the death was caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongful action, and what damages should be awarded to address the harm that was suffered by eligible surviving family members. Here, again, each state dictates who is eligible to recover damages. These survivors are called “real parties of interest” and might include a spouse or other financial dependents.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Case
The damages sought in a wrongful death lawsuit can be both economic and non-economic. Non-economic damages include those awarded for “pain and suffering,” as well as for something called “loss of consortium.” Loss of consortium refers to the loss of the intangible benefits of a loving relationship, such as affection and companionship. These types of damages might be recovered by a parent, spouse, or child. There’s no set rule for calculating the monetary equivalent of such a profound loss, but the court will carefully consider the relationships defined by the claim and the impact the unexpected death has on the surviving parties.
Economic damages, on the other hand, included medical and funeral expenses, as well as compensation for loss of support, income, inheritance, household items, and other services. The representative and their legal team should retain an expert economist to help estimate the amount of these losses when measured against the life expectancy of the decedent (the person who died). The jury will also consider earnings at the time of death and projected future earnings.
If the lawsuit is successful and damages are awarded, they will include interest calculated from the date of death. In a handful of states, the jury can award additional punitive damages when the person died due to gross negligence and/or misconduct by the defendant. However, most states do not allow punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits.
If the decedent does not die immediately from the accident and files a personal injury lawsuit, their representative can file a claim known as a “survival action” after their passing. The survival action essentially allows the representative to continue pursuing the existing personal injury case on behalf of the decedent. In these cases, the decedent’s estate may be able to recover damages for their suffering and pain before dying. To determine the amount of these damages, the jury looks at the decedent’s level of consciousness, how aware they might have been of their impending death, and the severity of their pain.
Let KJC Help You Recover After a Wrongful Death
The unexpected death of a loved one can be the most profound loss of your life. Not only are you grieving, but oftentimes, you’re left with a lot of questions. Why did this happen? Is this supposed to happen? If no one is giving you any real answers, it may make you wonder if someone was actually negligent and caused your loss unnecessarily.
To heal from the trauma of a loss so big, it’s important to have these questions answered. Whether you have a case or not, the team at KJC Law Firm is committed to helping you get the answers you need to give you and your family closure. Please, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with our team. Our firm has more than 125 years of collective experience litigating major personal injury cases. We have the resources to investigate your claim, hire the necessary experts, and get you the compensation that you deserve.