Most non-attorneys are familiar with the concept of a personal injury lawsuit, but don’t know much about wrongful death litigation. What are wrongful death claims, and how do they work? Who files the lawsuit, and what needs to be proven in order to recover money?
As a starting point, it is helpful to think of a wrongful death claim as the extreme version of a personal injury claim. Basically, any injury scenario that would qualify for a personal injury suit would also qualify for a wrongful death claim if the injuries resulted in death. Examples could include:
- Car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Dog bites and animal attacks
- Premises liability
- Dangerous and defective drugs or medical devices
- Dangerous and defective consumer products
Plaintiffs and ‘Right to Recover’ Doctrine
Other than death vs. injury, the other major difference is who the plaintiff is. Personal injury victims are the plaintiffs in their own lawsuits. But in wrongful death suits, the plaintiff is typically the executor of the deceased person’s estate, suing on behalf of immediate family members. This could be a spouse, children, parents and siblings, or anyone else who relied financially on the deceased person.
Once the plaintiffs demonstrate that they have the right to recover (damages), they must also demonstrate that the defendant is linked to the death of their loved one and should therefore be held financially liable. Finally, plaintiffs must demonstrate that the they were impacted by both the death of the victim and the defendant’s actions.
What Kinds of Damages are Available?
Damages are the legal term for money that can be recovered as compensation for injuries or other wrongs. Depending on the case, plaintiffs in wrongful death lawsuits may be able to seek damages for:
- Medical costs the victim incurred prior to death
- Costs related to the funeral and burial
- Loss of income (if the deceased person was a wage earner in the family)
- Loss of companionship and consortium
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of insurance
- Pain and suffering (in certain, limited cases)
Wrongful Death as a Civil Remedy for Violent Crime
Murder and manslaughter cases almost always go through the criminal justice system first. But a criminal conviction does not financially compensate the victim’s family. They can, however, file a civil wrongful death lawsuit related to the same crime.
In cases where the defendant is not found guilty in criminal court, he or she can still be sued in civil court, which has a lower standard of proof than criminal court (preponderance of evidence rather than proof beyond a reasonable doubt).
Speak To A Compassionate Attorney About Your Legal Needs
If you have lost a loved one to the negligent, reckless or intentional actions of another person, you may be able to hold the at-fault party accountable in a wrongful death lawsuit. To discuss your legal options with an experienced and compassionate wrongful death attorney in Longwood, FL, call a law office to arrange a free initial consultation.
Thanks to David & Philpot, P.L. for their insight into personal injury claims and the elements of a wrongful death claim.