The death of a family member or loved one is a difficult, sensitive topic that many people have trouble discussing. Often, old age or the knowledge of an illness allows us to prepare for the loss of a loved one. The most difficult time however, is when a death is unexpected. In the situation of wrongful death, a death is caused by another person’s negligence, misconduct, or intent to harm. These situations can be the most challenging because, in addition to the family struggling with grief, they now have to try to recover from the financial burden and damages that result from an unexpected death.
A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action brought on by the decedent’s estate to help the surviving family members recover damages as a result of the death. When a person dies because of negligence, misconduct or murder, the family has a legal right to recover their losses. It is important to consult an experienced wrongful death attorney because these lawsuits are complicated and the laws differ between states.
The elements of a wrongful death lawsuit are similar to the elements of a personal injury lawsuit. It must be proven that there was a duty of care, the duty of care was breached, the breach of duty caused the death, and damages were suffered because of that death. Wrongful death lawsuits can arise from almost any personal injury case but often a wrongful death lawsuit follows a car accident where someone was negligent, a medical malpractice lawsuit, or a murder.
One of the most famous wrongful death cases followed the O.J. Simpson trial. Even though Simpson was acquitted for the murder in criminal court, he was sued in civil court for wrongful death. In a wrongful death lawsuit, there is a lower standard of truth that must be proven. Rather than a reasonable doubt as in a criminal trial, a civil trial must only prove a preponderance of evidence.
In a wrongful death lawsuit, damages are measured financially. There are many elements that need to be considered when deciding a dollar amount for damages. The decedent’s age, condition, earning capacities, health and intelligence are all examined. Sometimes an expert like an economist needs to be consulted to measure the financial loss suffered. The jury will also have to consider what the family is losing as a result of the death. Loss of support, loss of potential inheritance, medical and funeral costs, loss of care or guidance, and loss of love and companionship need to be factored into the claim.
Some states allow punitive damages to be added into a wrongful death lawsuit. If the wrongful death stemmed from a personal injury case, a survival action needs to be considered. Wrongful death is a sensitive topic and the lawsuit is complicated and emotional draining but does not have to be faced alone. A wrongful death lawyer will know the best way to handle a wrongful death lawsuit and how to make sure the surviving family members are fairly and adequately compensated for their loss.