A wrongful death is one that is caused by someone’s wrongful act or negligent behavior. A wrongful death claim is a civil procedure governed by state-specific guidelines designed to allow qualified surviving family members a means of financial recovery for the unnatural death of a loved one.
In pursuing legal action against the person or entity responsible, a family may recover from the financial burdens caused by their loved one’s death. Consulting a wrongful death lawyer helps guide legal beneficiaries through an otherwise daunting and confusing experience.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
Generally, there are specific elements of a wrongful death claim duty, the failure to uphold the duty, the specific cause, and the resulting damages.
First and foremost, a plaintiff (in the case of a wrongful death, the qualified survivor) must show that the defendant (the person or entity responsible for the fatal incident) had a “duty” or obligation to do no intentional harm.
Once your lawyer establishes this, the question becomes, “Did the defendant uphold his or her duty?” If not, “What specifically was not done according to an acceptable standard, and what was the end result?”
While this may sound confusing and a bit overwhelming to a layperson, a personal injury attorney with a focus on wrongful death is trained in the investigation processes. This is what they do they know how to connect the dots, and they know how to develop a compelling case for a wrongful death claim.
The Decision to File a Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death claims involve a specialized area of personal injury law that deals specifically with death. Grief is a personal experience it is a human response to loss. The decision to pursue a wrongful death claim is a straightforward process that moves a family from the depths of grief toward emotional and financial recovery. Negligent behavior that puts others at risk is intolerable.
As a means to an end, a wrongful death claim can:
- Hold the responsible party or entity accountable
- Help a family recover financially from the loss of support and services
- Raise awareness of blatant safety issues
- Possibly prevent another family from a similar fate
- Provide a measure of closure
Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Unintentional injury is a leading cause of death nationally. Wrongful death cases can occur in any situation where a death is caused by someone’s negligence, incompetence, or wrongdoing. Some of the most common causes are motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian and bicycle accidents, unsafe premises, and medical malpractice and negligence.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Fatal motor vehicle accidents have been called a preventable national crisis. In a recent 12-month period, over 46,000 people lost their lives in a preventable traffic crash preventable because negligence causes most of them.
When negligence culminates in the death of a loved one, surviving family members can find guidance and direction from an experienced personal injury lawyer. Motorists must drive safely, obey the traffic laws of the state where they drive, and operate under the mandates of their licenses. A car accident lawyer can hold drivers found in violation liable for wrongful death.
Distracted driving is a major cause of roadway accidents.
Examples of distracted driving behavior include:
- Talking, listening, texting, or dialing a cell phone
- Conversations with occupants in the car
- Reaching for something in the vehicle
- Eating, drinking, grooming
- Adjusting climate controls, or audio volume
- Adjusting seat positions, or the rearview mirror
- Having pets or children in the vehicle
Speeding continues to be a driver-related factor in fatal motor vehicle accidents. In one recent calendar year, 29 percent of roadway deaths were speed-related. Additionally, on a national level, one person dies every 45 minutes because of an alcohol-impaired driver.
Other possible causes of accidental death include:
- Driver fatigue
- Inexperienced drivers
- Poorly maintained roadways
- Poor signage
Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents
Motor vehicle operators have a duty and a responsibility to cyclists and pedestrians— to exercise reasonable care to avoid causing harm to other road users. Recent statistical data tells us 7,388 pedestrians and almost 1,000 bicyclists lost their lives while traveling on the roads in a 12-month period.
Property owners, landlords, business establishments, and those persons managing public recreational and gathering places have a duty to keep the areas free from potential hazards, safe, and secure. A fatal injury stemming from someone’s negligent behavior or lack of appropriate actions may provide grounds for a wrongful death claim.
An experienced wrongful death attorney is able to advise those whose family member died in an accident at:
- An apartment complex
- A retail store
- An office building
- A hotel or motel
- A vacation rental
- An amusement park
- A theater
- A playground
- A sports arena
- A municipal facility
- A private residence
- A restaurant
- A school or daycare center
Medical Malpractice and Negligence
Licensed medical professionals, first responders, and certified healthcare workers must meet certain predetermined standards and criteria as a condition of their licensure and/or certification.
Patient care that falls below these acceptable standards may be considered negligent, incompetent, or unreasonable and may become the basis of a wrongful death claim. Despite valiant efforts, bad outcomes happen in medicine.
No one should expect perfection in a healthcare provider, but one rightly should expect at least the same level of skill as others in the same profession care and treatment that falls within the appropriate, acceptable standard.
Those persons who may be found liable in a medical negligence wrongful death claim include:
- Physician assistants
- Registered nurses
- Certified nurse practitioners
- Lab technicians
- Nutritionists and dietitians
- Alternative medicine providers
Some possible examples of medical malpractice that can cause wrongful death include:
- Diagnostic issues failure to diagnose, delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis
- A birth injury
- Maternal death
- Medication errors
- Anesthesia errors
- Surgical errors
- Lack of follow-up care
- Lack of coordination of care
Other possible examples of wrongful death causes may include:
- Defective products
- Construction site accidents
- faulty construction
- Nursing home abuse or neglect
- Illegal service of alcohol
- Dog bites
The Statute of Limitations Impacts Financial Recovery
In all cases, the statutes of limitations for a wrongful death lawsuit depend on the state where the death occurred, not the state of residence of the deceased. This fact alone can significantly impact a family struggling to make sense of a seemingly needless act.
The statutes of limitations are state-specific, ranging from 1 year to 6 years, and often contain exceptions and restrictions depending on the particular circumstances of the incident.
If a qualified plaintiff does not initiate the claim within the state-specific legally designated period, the survivors lose the right to sue. A wrongful death lawyer can help your grieving family meet this deadline.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
Grief is a complicated process the interpersonal dynamics of family relationships are equally complex and complicated. Eligibility requirements for filing a wrongful death lawsuit vary by state.
Many states require a designated representative to file the claim on behalf of qualified family members, while some do allow specific survivors to initiate action.
Qualified beneficiaries might include:
- Domestic partners
- Adopted children
- Financial dependents
There is a definite hierarchy regarding the disposition of funds in a successful wrongful death claim. A personal injury lawyer is best able to give potential beneficiaries sound legal advice concerning a wrongful death action.
Who Can You Sue for a Wrongful Death?
To answer the question in simple terms, basically, anyone whose negligence might have contributed, in some way, to the ultimate death of a family’s loved one. Some examples of potentially liable parties in a wrongful death case include negligent drivers, medical and healthcare providers, hospital administrators, nursing home staff members, property owners, government entities, trucking company fleet owners, product manufacturers, and business owners.
The trucking industry is held to a high standard when it comes to roadway safety.
Drivers must qualify medically, vehicles must be maintained regularly, and the trucker’s hours on the road are limited. Any deviation from the federally mandated standards and requirements can leave the truck driver and their fleet owner financially liable in a wrongful death action.
Wrongful Death Settlements and Compensation
A personal injury and wrongful death attorney can help a family calculate the full monetary value of their losses with the help of financial planners and economists. No amount of money can adequately compensate a surviving spouse or dependent children for their devastating loss.
A wrongful death lawsuit can, however, offset the death’s financial impact on surviving family members.
Types of Damages
Economic damages are quantifiable. These are the actual monetary losses a family suffers following the death of a loved one.
This may include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial costs
- Loss of inheritance for children
- Loss of the deceased person’s future earnings, pensions, and employer-provided insurance coverage
- Value of services the deceased would have provided to the household, such as cleaning, home maintenance, childcare
Non-economic damages are intangible and can include:
- The mental anguish of the survivors
- The pain and suffering of the survivors
- The loss of guidance
- Loss of companionship
- A spouse’s loss of consortium
Every accident is different, and every financial settlement is unique.
Some things that may influence the value of a settlement include:
- The particular circumstances of the incident
- The direct cause of the accident
- The total cost of medical expenses from the time of the accident to the time of death
- Lost income
- Lost benefits
- The ages of any surviving children
- The age and educational background of the deceased
- The age and educational background of the surviving spouse
- Projected future income and anticipated benefits
- The administrative costs of probate
There is no textbook solution for determining the appropriate monetary compensation for pain and suffering, the loss of companionship, or the loss of guidance and emotional support. Sometimes it is just all about how your lawyer tells the story and how the jury perceives it.
Expert witness statements, a survivor’s impact statement, and a wrongful death lawyer’s expertise, grit, and determination can make a significant difference.
Legal Counsel Can Help a Family Pursue Financial Compensation for a Wrongful Death
It is all about justice. Grieving families need a powerful advocate in their corner following a death caused by another’s negligence or wrongdoing.
A personal injury wrongful death lawyer can:
- Curate and review evidence about the fatal accident.
- Establish liability.
- Complete all the necessary filing documents promptly.
- Leverage their relationships with expert witnesses and financial planners to develop a strong case for maximum financial compensation.
- Handle all correspondence with claims adjusters and insurance companies.
- Protect the legal rights of the surviving family members.
- Negotiate on behalf of surviving family members.
- Take a claim to trial if necessary.
If your family struggles after a tragedy like a wrongful death, contact a personal injury attorney in Augusta to learn about your rights and answer any of your questions or concerns. Wrongful death attorneys often offer a no-cost consultation and are here to help you.