Any case in which someone’s willful or negligent act caused another party to lose their life qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit. However, each state has different legal approaches and stipulations regarding wrongful death claims, such as how long a person has to file and who can pursue legal action against the at-fault party.
Many circumstances can lead to wrongful death cases, including those that occur intentionally, such as homicide, as well as those that result from negligence, such as medical malpractice. According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, medical errors rank third among the leading causes of death in the United States behind cancer and heart disease. Approximately 250,000 patients lose their lives each year to medical malpractice, accounting for one in 10 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Families and loved ones of wrongful death victims often feel overwhelmed by the litigation process and may not know how to proceed with their claim, but a lawyer can help them determine the appropriate course of action in their case.
Origin of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
The original wrongful death statutes in the U.S. benefited either a widow and her children, who the court assumed relied on the decedent for financial support, or a master who lost a servant, wife, or child and therefore could no longer benefit from their services.
Today, many parties have the opportunity to file wrongful death claims on behalf of their loved ones, and more types of damages have become available to more of the decedent’s survivors. While each state determines who may file a wrongful death suit and who receives compensation if a settlement results, the design of the system aims to accommodate those most closely related to the victim and provide fair compensation for the losses they and their loved ones suffered.
People Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
A close family member can typically file a wrongful death claim, although the specifics depend on the state and whether or not the decedent had a will. If not, the court may appoint a representative of the estate who can file a lawsuit for wrongful death. Some states allow only one party to file a claim, while others allow one of many eligible individuals to do so. Individuals who can file a wrongful death claim may include:
- The personal representative of the decedent’s estate
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Children or stepchildren
- Other blood relatives
- Those who received financial support from the decedent
The recipient or recipients of the settlement amount may include one or more of the above parties depending on the state. Although some states have strict guidelines as to who can receive compensation and how much they may qualify for, others might allow more freedom for family members and loved ones to decide amongst themselves.
A lawyer can help you determine how the laws in your state apply to your wrongful death case.
Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The types of awards and amounts the families of victims may receive in wrongful death claims depends on the circumstances of the case and state statutes. Survivors of the decedent may pursue economic damages, which refer to measurable amounts accrued by the decedent due to their injury, and non-economic damages, which provide compensation for the long-term effects of the trauma associated with the decedent’s death.
Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic awards for injuries and other losses suffered by the decedent or their surviving family members. Types of compensatory damages vary by case but may include payment for:
- Medical bills and other healthcare expenses
- Lost wages or loss of future wages
- Pain and suffering for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma of the decedent and plaintiff
- Funeral and burial expenses
Certain cases involve such egregious behavior committed by the defendant that the judge deems it appropriate to impose punitive damages on top of compensatory damages. This type of payment to the plaintiff serves as a punishment to the defendant for their behavior and aims to prevent future instances of such behavior from occurring.
A Lawyer Can Help You Determine if Your Case Qualifies as a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
If your loved one lost their life as the result of another person’s negligence, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, state laws can complicate the claims process and make it confusing for those unfamiliar with how the legal system works.
The lawyers at Ben Crump Law, PLLC can help you determine if you have a case and pursue compensation for you, and you do not owe us any fees unless we achieve a settlement. Contact us today at (800) 593-3443 to speak with our team about your free case evaluation.