What Are the Laws Regarding Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death law is applied to tort cases where the defendant’s actions caused the death of the victim and where the victim’s family and any dependants are left to subsequently suffer in the absence of the deceased. The goal of wrongful death laws is to provide financial relief to the survivors.
Wrongful death laws are relatively new. Early American courts held that when a person died as the result of someone’s action, the ability to bring a case against the person or entity that caused the person’s death died along with them. However, in the last century, lawmakers came to the understanding that this doctrine is unjust.
In the modern era, wrongdoers are not able to escape liability for their actions simply because their victim died. There are important distinctions between wrongful death and a similar claim known as a survivor action. Wrongful death laws make the wrongdoer compensate the victim’s family for the loss of the financial and emotional support the victim provided to the family. Survival action makes the wrongdoer pay for damages the victim sustained before they died, such as medical bills and pain and suffering.
What is a tort?
In a nutshell, a tort is an act or omission by an individual or entity that causes injury or harm to an individual, which amounts to a civil wrong. The courts can impose liability on the wrongdoer, and tort law is generally used to discourage people from causing harm to others. Torts fall into three categories which are intentional torts (intentionally striking someone, for example) negligent torts, (causing an accident by speeding, for example) and, strict liability (liability for creating and selling defective products, for example.)
What is wrongful death?
Wrongful death is a legal term used to express the death of a person caused by the negligence or recklessness of another person or entity. Spouses, parents, and children of the deceased can file a lawsuit to get compensation for their emotional and financial damages caused by the other party.
What are the different types of wrongful death?
Losing a loved one is an extremely hard experience for families, but when it’s because of the action of another, it can be even more devastating. While wrongful deaths can be caused in many different ways, some of the most common kinds of wrongful death lawsuits are:
- Car accidents - Because there are so many cars on the road, this is one of the leading causes of wrongful death. Most car accidents that result in fatalities are due to something one of the drivers did, like speeding, driving recklessly, driving while intoxicated, or not paying attention. If anyone of these applies to the death of your loved one, you may be able to hold the driver liable.
- Medical Malpractice - Although most doctors and nurses are highly skilled and trustworthy professionals, sometimes accidents happen. Perhaps something was overlooked, or a procedural mistake was made. Many medical malpractice claims come from failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis leading to death.
- Work-related accidents - There are many high-risk jobs out there like commercial trucking, commercial fishing, and logging. But even less risky jobs can result in wrongful death. For example, an employee is forced to work multiple shifts without rest, and as a result, they get into a car accident on the way home because of exhaustion. If an employer puts an employee in a dangerous situation, they may be held liable for their death in a civil suit.
- Defective products - Product liability is a huge thing, so that’s why manufacturers are held to a high standard to make sure what they are releasing to the public is safe. However, sometimes companies cut corners to increase profit. For example, Ford’s unsafe design of the infamous Pinto caused an estimated 500 burn deaths. The company held off making changes to the defective fire-prone gas tanks on this model because it was simply more profitable to pay for wrongful death lawsuits than change the design.
- Semi-truck accidents - While technically a car accident, semi-truck accidents are put into another category because these accidents are often catastrophic and cause fatalities due to the immense size of the vehicle. A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought if it’s found the driver was driving under the influence, driving with an oversized load, or aggressively driving, among other reasons.
- Pedestrian accidents - Getting hit by a car while walking down the road is more likely to cause death simply because a pedestrian has no protection. Driver’s negligence is typically the cause of these kinds of accidents; however, if the city or county was somehow negligent, they could be on the hook, too.
- Aviation accidents - Although very rare, aviation accidents typically result in fatalities. The most common causes are pilot error or mechanical failure. While it’s unlikely the pilot would survive, they could be held liable for the death of others if it was the pilot’s fault. If the crash was due to issues with the airplane, the airline or airplane manufacturer could be held liable for a wrongful death claim.
What is required to prove wrongful death?
When filing a wrongful death lawsuit for individual negligence, the plaintiff must demonstrate the four elements of negligence to win the case. Here are the four elements required for success in the courtroom.
- Duty - It must be proven that the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. For example, when getting behind the wheel of a car, you have a duty to others to respect and follow traffic laws and pay attention to road signals and signs.
- Breach - Next, the plaintiff must demonstrate how the defendant breached this duty of care. This is accomplished by showing that the defendant engaged in specific actions that led to your loved one’s death. Some examples are, texting while driving, operating heavy machinery under the influence, or willfully speeding through a school zone. It can also be defined by inaction if the defendant didn’t take appropriate measures to make sure your loved one wasn’t harmed.
- Damages - A plaintiff must prove the defendant was negligent, which resulted in injury or calculable loss. In the instance of wrongful death, this is often very well documented.
- Causation - Lastly, the plaintiff will have to associate the defendant’s breach of duty with the wrongful death. This is accomplished by demonstrating how the defendant’s actions or inactions directly caused the death or by showing the death wouldn’t have happened but for the defendant’s actions.
Who can sue for wrongful death?
A wrongful death claim is filed by a representative on behalf of the survivors. The survivors are known as the “real parties of interest,” and who can be included as a real party of interest differs from state to state. They could include immediate family members, spouses, life partners, financial dependents, distant family members (such as brothers or sisters), and parents of a deceased fetus in some states.
What are the steps in a wrongful death lawsuit?
Wrongful death cases are very complicated due to wrongful death laws. If you think you have a wrongful death case, you should consult with a qualified lawyer right away. A lawyer will make sure the claim is brought in a timely fashion, a personal representative has been appointed, the responsible person or party is identified, and the right damages are claimed.
You shouldn’t feel bad about hiring a lawyer right away after losing a loved one since the wrongdoer’s insurance company is already working to gather evidence. You want to make sure that evidence is preserved. You’re protecting their interests and potentially providing financial stability for their dependants.
You’ll first need to obtain a death certificate from the Department of Health and make sure you have an administrator of the will. If there is no will, the administrator is usually the surviving spouse or heirs. All survivors must be identified, which is generally the spouse, children, and anyone else who depended on the deceased. Then, your wrongful death attorney will begin an investigation into the accident.
A wrongful death lawyer will understand the statute of limitations in your state and be able to identify any exceptions to the statute if the time has run out. They will figure out all bills and damage claims such as funeral bills, medical bills, loss of earnings, loss of net income, loss of support and services such as household tasks, and loss of companionship and pain and suffering.
Then litigation will proceed against the defendant’s insurance company. If the compensation to the family and beneficiaries seems fair, it can be settled out of court. However, if the insurance companies low-ball their offer, your attorney should be prepared to go to trial to fight for your right to be compensated.
Why hire Morgan & Morgan for a wrongful death claim?
We understand how devastating the loss of a loved one can be for families. Especially when the tragedy could have been prevented but for the actions of another. You are left with grief and are struggling to make sense of it all. Furthermore, you’re looking at a growing financial burden caused by the death of your loved one.
At Morgan & Morgan, our highly skilled attorneys have represented thousands of families reeling from the reckless and negligent acts that have brought harm to their doorstep. Our attorneys are compassionate and work hard to provide the kind of support you need right now as your advocate.
We take care of all the paperwork, investigating, accident reconstruction, and finding expert testimony to reinforce your case. We’ve recovered billions for our clients in our 30+ year history because right is right. When you have a wrongful death, you deserve to be compensated. Survivors shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of financial loss from someone else’s actions. Contact us today so we can determine how we can assist you and your family. Our services are free unless we win your case.