One of the worst outcomes of any accident is the loss of life. For countless families, this tragedy is a reality. Understanding why someone chose to act recklessly and those actions took the life of another are difficult. When a wrongful death occurs, surviving loved ones have to grapple with grief and loss and anger and frustration. These accidents can take place in countless ways, but pursuing justice only has a few. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is one avenue for seeking justice in civil court, but the process is complicated and can take time.
If you lost a loved one under tragic circumstances because an individual or company was negligent, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. Money can never replace the love and presence of your lost family member, but seeking compensation for the emotional and financial trauma you have suffered should be considered.
What Takes Place in a Wrongful Death Action?
Unlike other civil tort claims, there are specific elements within the facts of a case that will determine a wrongful death action outcome. In this type of suit, you are required to demonstrate to the insurance company or court that the at-fault party unlawfully harmed your loved one, which contributed to their death.
At Morgan and Morgan, our attorneys have represented families of loved ones killed by reckless behavior, negligent actions, and malicious intent to harm. We frequently represent cases where a spouse or child was struck and killed by a drunk driver. Our legal team has to show that the drunk driver caused the accident and that the injuries caused to the decedent led to their death.
Proving negligence involves several steps in any wrongful death case, and our experienced accident lawyers will demonstrate the following to the court:
- The defendant had a duty of care, and,
- Their actions breached that duty, and,
- That breach caused an accident, and,
- Damages and injuries were caused to the plaintiff, and,
- The plaintiff died due to those injuries.
Keep in mind that if you bring a wrongful death lawsuit that involves assault or a defective product, some of these criteria may differ slightly. This is why you should consult with the personal injury attorneys of Morgan and Morgan about your case. We will assist you in determining if you have a sound claim for wrongful death and how your state's laws will impact your case.
Examples of Unlawful Death Situations
As mentioned earlier, wrongful death claims can arise from numerous situations often caused by another person's negligent behavior, actions, or choices. Below are just a handful of such examples that our firm successfully represents:
Motor vehicle collisions are one of the most common causes for a wrongful death suit. This category includes motorcycles, pedestrian accidents, truck crashes, and even boating accidents.
Medical and Nursing Home Malpractice
This category includes situations involving anesthesia errors, nursing home abuse or negligence, missed or incorrect diagnoses, and more.
Many states, including New York, see their fair share of construction site tragedies every year. Workers that sustain fatal injuries on the job might result in a wrongful death lawsuit being brought against the company and machinery manufacturers if equipment contributed to their injuries.
Warehouse workers and firefighters regularly face workplace hazards that put their lives in jeopardy. When an employee becomes the victim of a fatal accident, family members can pursue wrongful death compensation if negligence by another party led to their death.
Intentional acts of aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, manslaughter, and murder often qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit action.
Every day, defective products injure, maim, and kill consumers. From failing car brakes to contaminated meat, deaths caused by these circumstances deserve compensation.
Slip, Trip, and Falls
Brain injuries are the leading cause of death for those who pass after a slip, trip, or fall accident. Elderly adults and young children are the most frequent victims of these often preventable situations and occur because of a negligent property owner.
Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Many states only allow one wrongful death claim to be brought per decedent, and only certain family members can do so. This reality can cause a lot of frustration and anger between family members if they cannot agree. Having the trusted attorneys of Morgan and Morgan by your side to advise you through this process can ensure everyone's concerns are heard and acknowledged when deciding who should take action.
Generally, the following individuals of the decedent's family get precedence when bringing a wrongful death lawsuit:
- Current spouse
- Adult children
- Minor children or grandchildren
- Brothers and sisters
- Nieces and nephews
- Other family member permitted by the court
- Legal administrator or executor of the estate if not relatives are available
Remember, every state has its own laws regarding this type of personal injury suit. Some will share authority between spouses and parents or only allow the executor to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Situations, where a priority family member won't file a case, may also apply, so it's important to retain legal counsel as soon as possible once a loved one gets hurt.
Wrongful Death Claims and Criminal Prosecutions
It's true that unlawful deaths can result in criminal charges against the liable party. This may or may not impact your ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit depending on the state you live in and whether the court wants to wait on civil litigation and let the criminal process finish first.
While prosecutors must follow speedy trial deadlines once filing charges, delays can still occur, but for not longer than a few months. Families wishing to pursue a civil personal injury case can usually do so regardless of whether the defendant was found guilty, acquitted, or was never charged.
If your loved one was the victim of a crime, and their injuries contributed to their death, prosecutors may pursue criminal charges against the accused individual(s).
Below are circumstances that could lead to both prosecution and a civil wrongful death claim:
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Child cruelty and neglect
- Aggravated assault and battery
- Assisting or persuading someone to commit suicide
- Illegal use of a firearm
- Reckless endangerment
The Difference Between Civil Damages and Restitution
When a defendant is convicted of unlawfully causing someone to die, the criminal court typically orders them to pay restitution to the family. This monetary compensation is intended to cover things like funeral expenses, remaining medical bills, and property damage the decedent suffered. Insurance policies do not cover this type of order, and all payments will come from the defendant's personal resources.
Civil damages cover wrongful death losses suffered by the decedent's family and will be paid through the defendant's insurance policy if they have one. The compensation from this type of suit is much more comprehensive and will cover losses, such as:
It may be possible to obtain:
- Pain and suffering of the decedent
- Medical costs accrued from their injuries before death
- Lost income because of the loved one's passing
- Loss of household service provided by the decedent
- Non-economic damages, including loss of consortium and companionship
- Funeral costs
To best determine what damages you might receive in a wrongful death lawsuit, several factors must be considered, including:
- Age of the decedent at death
- Their education level
- What future earnings were lost
- Their health before their death
- How long they might have lived
At Morgan & Morgan, our wrongful death attorneys work diligently to recover compensation for all of these damages to the maximum extent of the law. Be sure to speak with one of our skilled team members about the circumstances of your case and arrange for a free consultation.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
Every state has its own statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, but the period to file typically ranges between one and four years from the date of your loved one's passing. There may be a possibility we can extend this deadline under certain circumstances. To find out how much of a window you have available to pursue compensation in civil court, contact a qualified attorney at Morgan & Morgan right away.
If your family member suffered severe injuries involving conditions like traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, or burns that did not result in their immediate death, you still have options. It is often possible to still pursue a claim despite the statute of limitations that has expired for filing a car accident claim. Families still have the opportunity for a wrongful death suit and only need to prove to the court that their relative's death resulted from their accident injuries.