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What is Wrongful Death


When another person is killed because of another person’s negligence or misconduct it is called wrongful death. Wrongful death is a separate civil action and different from any criminal charges even though there may still be criminal prosecution related to the death of the person. The standard of proof is lower in this case than it would be for a case of murder or manslaughter.

Some instances of wrongful death lawsuit include motor vehicle accidents, toxic torts, criminal activity, manufacturing defects, and medical malpractice. Wrongful death statues are different depending on the state. Each state has its own criteria and procedure for wrongful death lawsuits. There are certain agencies in special cases that have government immunity from the prosecution of wrongful death lawsuits.

A lawsuit may be filed from a representative on behalf of the decedent’s death. The representative depending on the state is on the behalf of the eligible survivors who experienced harm from the incident. The eligibility of family members depends on your state and the survivors are called “real parties of interest.” In order to sue the negligent party, spouses, children, and parents of children who are not married can act as a representatives. Depending on the state, other people like spouses or financial dependents can recover damages. In addition, other states may allow siblings and grandparents to make a claim.

The representative must prove a death caused by someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions, the survivors (family members) who suffered harm because of the death and are eligible to recover damages, and the appointment of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate when it is necessary.

In order for family members to be eligible to recover, a representative who brings a lawsuit for wrongful death can recover noneconomic and economic damages for the family. This includes medical and funeral expenses, loss of support, loss of income, loss of inheritance, out of pocket expenses, lost household items, or other services. A child who loses a wage-earner parent, he or she may recover for the loss of parental guidance. To evaluate the life expectancy of the decadent to estimate lost earnings and other losses, a plaintiff is important to retain an expert economist. In the meantime, the jury will look at earnings at the time of death and additionally look at future earnings.

Damages that are claimed as non-economic such as pain and suffering, can also be recovered. From the date of death, the damages award includes interest. For certain states, the jury can award punitive damages when the person died due to gross negligence and conduct by the defendant. Note that in most states punitive damages are not permitted in wrongful death lawsuits.

If the decedent does not die immediately from the accident and brings a personal injury lawsuit, they can maintain “survival action”. The claim allows the decedent’s estate to recover from suffering and pain before dying. In addition to other things, the jury looks into the ability in which the decedent was conscious, the awareness of impending death, and the severity of his or her pain.

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