Wrongful death suits are perhaps some of the most heartbreaking personal injury suits for surviving family because they involve a preventable and accidental death caused by negligence. Each state has enacted its own laws that govern wrongful death claims, and we are providing a summary of New Jersey's laws below.
New Jersey defines a wrongful death as one caused by another's wrongful act or negligence. In New Jersey, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed in civil court, even if there is a criminal case pending with the courts.
Since wrongful death claims are civil actions, they must be filed by a beneficiary or the personal representative of the decedent's estate, and if the court rules in the plaintiff's favor, liability is expressed strictly in the form of money damages.
In contrast, criminal cases are filed by the district attorney's office and if the defendant is found guilty, he or she faces fines and imprisonment among other penalties.
Statute of Limitations for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim
There is a time limit for filing a wrongful death claim in New Jersey, called a "statute of limitations." Wrongful death cases in New Jersey must be filed within two years of the decedent's death.
If the lawsuit isn't filed within the two year window, the plaintiffs forfeit their right to file a claim.
Wrongful death claims are brought on behalf of the surviving family members, though they are typically filed by the personal representative of the estate.
If damages are awarded, they are distributed among the family members who were the decedent's dependents at the time of death, or they are distributed to the beneficiaries under the state's inheritance laws.
Those entitled to damages in a wrongful death case, include:
- Surviving spouse;
- Children or grandchildren;
- Surviving parents of the deceased;
- Surviving siblings, nieces or nephews; and
- Anyone who can demonstrate that they are an actual dependent of the decedent.
In reference to surviving family members, generally the spouse and children come first. Only if there is no spouse or surviving children would the surviving parents receive damages, and if there are no surviving parents, then siblings, nephews and nieces would be entitled to the award.
Need a Bergen County wrongful death attorney? Contact us for a case evaluation!