What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim can arise after situations in which a victim who would otherwise have a valid personal injury claim is killed as a result of the defendant's wrongful action. If the claim can’t be resolved, the claim can result in a lawsuit. To start, a wrongful death claim can stem from almost any kind of personal injury situation including:
- When a victim is intentionally killed. For example, O.J. Simpson was sued in civil court for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. These civil lawsuits brought by the victims' families were separate from the state's criminal case against Simpson.
- When a victim dies as a result of medical malpractice. If a doctor fails to diagnose a condition, or if the doctor is careless in the level of care provided, and a patient dies as a result, a wrongful death action might be possible against the doctor.
- Car accident fatalities involving negligence. If a victim dies as a result of car accident injuries, a wrongful death claim may be brought.
Who can file a wrongful death claim and pursue a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death claim is usually filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim, on behalf of survivors who had a relationship with the victim. Exactly who those survivors can vary from state to state.
In all states, a spouse may bring a wrongful death action on behalf of his or her deceased spouse. Parents of minors may also bring a wrongful death action if one of their children is killed, and minors can collect compensation over the death of a parent. Where states start to disagree is whether parents of adult children can sue, whether adult children can sue for the wrongful death of their parents, whether grown siblings can sue for wrongful death, or whether extended relatives like cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents can sue. Usually, the more distant the familial relationship is, the harder it will be to get a legal remedy via a wrongful death case. In some states, the romantic partner of the deceased may bring a wrongful death claim (marriage isn't a requirement, in other words), as can anyone who can show financial dependence on the deceased.
What must be proven in a wrongful death claim?
In order to hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs in the claim (usually through the estate of the deceased victim) must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet had the victim lived. So, using negligence as an example, this means showing that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, that the defendant breached this duty, that the breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the death, and that the death caused the damages that the plaintiff is trying to recover.
Wrongful death damages
Damages in a wrongful death claim—categories of losses for which a survivor might be able to receive compensation—include:
- the deceased person's pre-death "pain and suffering" (this is often called a "survival" claim).
- the medical treatment costs that the deceased victim incurred as a result of the injury prior to death
- funeral and burial costs
- loss of the deceased person's expected income
- loss of any inheritance as a result of the death
- value of the services that the deceased would have provided
- loss of care, guidance, and nurturing that the deceased would have provided
- loss of love and companionship, and
- loss of consortium.
Brandon J Broderick, Wrongful Death Claim Attorney, Can Help
Are you considering talking to an attorney about a possible wrongful death claim? At, Brandon J Broderick, Attorney at Law, we believe in compassion and empathy and can help you understand the options. Contact us today for a free consultation. With our proven track record of success, we can get you the justice you deserve.