Just because someone dies in an accident, that doesn’t mean the surviving family automatically has a good case for a wrongful death claim. Just as is true of any type of legal proceeding, there are certain conditions that must be met. By learning precisely what these qualifications are and applying them to your family’s specific circumstances, you can better determine whether or not you should consult a wrongful death attorney.
The Basics of a Wrongful Death
According to the law, an individual’s passing is determined a wrongful death, where the death was caused through the negligence of another party. The negligence can include acts of misconduct, as well as the intentional act of murder. In the vast majority of cases, the wrongful death claim isn’t filed until after criminal charges have been levied and the individual or entity has been through a trial in criminal court. This helps the wrongful death claim in that evidence and witnesses have already been assembled and documented.
A wrongful death claim can result in a successful outcome, even where the defendant was not found guilty in a criminal trial. Although the same evidence is used in most cases, the burden of proof is lower in a civil suit than it is in a criminal proceeding. Most people know that a criminal conviction requires that the jury be sure the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In a wrongful death civil suit, however, the plaintiff is only required to prove that a “preponderance of the evidence” points to his guilt. While this can be subjective, it generally means that the weight or value of the evidence makes it more likely than not that the defendant’s actions caused the death.
Finally, a wrongful death claim can only be initiated by a personal representative for the victim. This is usually the individual named by the victim’s estate to oversee the matters of probate. Where there isn’t a will or other document naming a personal representative, there may be a separate court proceeding to appoint the personal representative.
The Essential Elements Involved in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
While every state has its own laws governing the filing of wrongful death lawsuit, every state agrees that certain conditions must be met. Before filing a wrongful death suit, the plaintiff must be able to show that all of the following have occurred:
- A human being has died through causes that were other than natural
- The death was caused by the negligence of another, which may have included the intention to cause harm
- Surviving family members have suffered financial distress resulting from the death
- A personal representative has been appointed and is able to bring the suit
Another pressing question that many people have about wrongful death claims is in determining what types of incidents can cause a wrongful death. While there are no hard and fast rules, the majority of wrongful death incidents can fall into one of five categories.
A wrongful death suit may be filed, if the death was the result of one of these acts:
- Medical malpractice, where the patient’s death was the result
- Auto vehicle or airplane accident
- Workplace accidents in which the death resulted from having been exposed to hazardous chemicals, substances, or conditions
- The commission of a criminal act
- The death occurred, while the individual participated in an acitivity that was supervised
What Damages May Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Claim?
It may also be helpful to know in advance what types of monetary compensation you may pursue in a wrongful death claim. There are several types of damages that families suffer due to the untimely death of a loved one and, while money can’t replace the deceased family member, it can help cover the costs that the death incurred. Financial expenses caused by a wrongful death typically include:
- Medical bills incurred prior to the individual’s death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the individual’s expected income
- The lost benefits, such as health insurance coverage provided through the individual’s employment
- A loss of inheritance caused by the victim’s premature death
Additionally, the wrongful death suit may cite damages that may not have direct financial value. For instance, a monetary value may be estimated to compensate the surviving family members for their grief, mental anguish, and for their pain and suffering. Damages may also be sought to compensate the family for the loss of nurturing, education, support, guidance, or protection that the death caused. Additionally, the suit may cite a loss of companionship and, in relation to a surviving spouse or life partner, the loss of consortium.
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one and feel the death was caused by the negligence of another, you may need to consult a wrongful death attorney. Initial consultations are typically free of charge and can help you better understand your case. Although you’ve suffered the irreplaceable loss of a loved one, you shouldn’t have to continue suffering the financial consequences.
Call Fenster & Cohen today at 954-473-1500