Wrongful death lawsuits seek retributions from wrongdoers (defendants) for their negligence. In wrongful death lawsuits, a personal injury lawyer argues that a person’s death could have easily been prevented if not for the defendant’s negligence or intentional actions.
Each state has different laws on the statute of limitations. Today, we’ll go over some frequently asked questions on wrongful death lawsuits, and some important information you need to know to successfully win a wrongful death lawsuit.
Also Read: The Myth of Frivolous Lawsuits
Proving Who’s Negligent In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
To hold someone liable in a wrongful death suit, the plaintiffs must find a burden of proof. Burden of proof means that had it not been for the defendant’s direct actions, the deceased would still be alive.
Wrongful death lawsuits are a result of someone’s direct negligence, a wrongful act, or breach of contract. There must be proof that not only was the defendant knowingly negligent, but that their negligence directly caused this person’s death. Common wrongful death lawsuits include suing:
- Caregivers or healthcare professionals for medical malpractice.
- The driver in an at-fault vehicle accident.
- The designer, builder, or engineer of a faulty structure.
- A manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty product.
- A government entity that failed to provide adequate warnings.
In order to have a successful lawsuit, a lawyer must prove factual causation and legal causation. Factual causation shows the cause of death, and how it could’ve easily been prevented. Legal causation proves there’s a direct relation between the cause of death and defendant’s actions.
Wrongful Death Lawsuit Statute Of Limitations
The statute of limitations limits when you can file a lawsuit. Normally, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within a year or two of the death, but this can vary depending on your state. If plaintiffs do not file within their statute of limitations, they can lose their rights to sue.
Common expectations to a statute of limitations include:
- Medical malpractice: In many cases, families may discover more information on the cause of death and other circumstances upon further reports. Medical malpractice suits normally allow a two year statute of limitations.
- Homicides and murders: Since it may take a substantial amount of time for authorities to prove and investigate homicides, the statute of limitations on these lawsuits can vary.
- Government entities: For wrongful death lawsuits against governments, the statute of limitations extends to four years. A specific notice must be filed and sent before plaintiffs can file these lawsuits.
There are other options if a plaintiff misses the statute of limitations deadline. This can include:
- Tolling the statute of limitations.
- Having the statute of limitations waived by a court.
- Having the statute of limitations waived by the other party.
Plaintiffs who request to waive the statute of limitations will need to meet a very specific criteria set by the court. It’s also unlikely that any opposing party would willingly let someone sue them.
This means challenging the statute of limitations can be incredibly difficult, and will need a lawyer’s legal expertise. Always speak to a lawyer after the unprecedented death of a loved one to know what your options are.
The Discovery Rule
A plaintiff may not know the true cause of death immediately. This could mean new information during the autopsy or other new discoveries upon further investigation. This means the statute of limitations does not begin until the misconduct is reported. However, if the cause of death was apparent from the start, courts will uphold normal statute of limitations ruling.
Who Can Sue In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Plaintiffs that can file for wrongful death lawsuits are “real parties of interest.” Real parties of interest can change depending on the state. Generally, most states only consider the following as real parties of interest:
Immediate family members: Immediate family members such as parents, spouses, and children can file wrongful death lawsuits in all states.
Domestic partners and dependants: Anyone who is financially dependent on the deceased has a right to sue for damages. A “putative spouse,” is another term commonly used to describe domestic partners and dependants.
Distant family members: Some states allow distant family members to file wrongful death lawsuits. Often, in order for a brother, sister, or grandparent to file for a wrongful death lawsuit, they will need a closer correlation to the deceased.
Anyone who suffers financially: Some states also allow anyone who suffers financially from an untimely death can file a wrongful death suit, even without a blood relation.
It’s understandable if your circumstances differ from normal real parties of interest ruling. If you’re unsure whether or not you have a right to sue, contact a personal injury lawyer to see what options you have.
Damages Victims Can Receive From A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death lawsuits aren’t a criminal cases. Plaintiffs need to file the suit in civil court, which is why there’s only a limited time to act. In addition to this, defendants don’t normally serve jail time in wrongful death lawsuits, they only pay damages.
Wrongful death lawsuits commonly award plaintiffs two types of damages: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages consider more tangible costs associated with the deceased’s death. This can include:
- Medical and funeral expenses
- Loss of support and income
- Loss of inheritance
- Future support and earnings
An economist normally considered the deceased’s tangible value currently and in the future. The jury then decides on economic damages based on this calculation.
Noneconomic damages consider the plaintiff’s pain and suffering, and earn interest overtime. Some states will allow wrongful death lawsuits to include punitive damages in noneconomic damages. Punitive damages deter defendants from repeating the same misconduct again as a form of punishment.
How Much Can You Sue For Wrongful Death
It’s almost impossible to predict an exact number for a wrongful death lawsuit. Be cautious of personal injury lawyers who “guarantee” any kind of financial outcome.
When calculating damages for a wrongful death lawsuit, courts have to consider any kind of contributions on behalf of the deceased. This includes things the deceased would have given in the future had they lived a full life, such as:
- Basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter
- Support, medical care, and education
- Entertainment, gifts, and recreation
The best way to find an estimate on a loved one’s estimated value is to speak with a personal injury lawyer directly. They can help you calculate your estimated damages and file your wrongful death lawsuit.