Dealing with the emotions and aftermath of a loved one’s passing is never easy, but when that death is due to someone’s negligence and could have been prevented, it can be even more painful.
While you are handling the distraught and often wildly ranging emotions of yourself and those around you, you may be quickly faced with having to make the decision of whether or not to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. You may fluctuate between wanting them to pay for their negligence and just wanting to move on with your life, and this is completely normal.
Victims of a wrongful death are not just those who have lost their lives. They are those left behind to deal with the pain and suffering, the financial repercussions, and the legal red tape that must be sorted through before the deceased can truly be put to rest.
It’s an emotional time and one that the majority of people have never had to handle. While there is no rule book for what you should do if you lost a loved one to a wrongful death, there are some general guidelines that may make some of the stressful situations easier to tackle through your pain should you decide to file a wrongful death claim.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Filing a wrongful death claim means that you are attempting to make the person or party responsible for your family member’s death be held accountable for it. This claim is a civil action that is brought by a specified individual or more than one individual who is seeking compensation from the negligent source.
Wrongful death claims are filed against someone who is accused of negligently, recklessly, or even intentionally causing the death of a close relation.
Legal action can be pursued in circumstances in which negligence either directly or indirectly caused a death. A prime example of this is in the case of negligent medical care. Inadvertently or purposely causing death to someone while you were responsible for their medical treatment is called medical malpractice and is a serious accusation.
Reckless actions are also grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit. This is often seen as the result of a motor vehicle accident that takes the life of an innocent person because the driver of the other car was not following the rules of the road. Sometimes it is because they were driving under the influence or speeding, but often today it is because they were distracted by their cell phones. Sadly, careless driving takes multiple lives every day in wrongful deaths.
A third reason for deaths due to wrongful actions is when someone dies as the result of an intentional act. The term “murder” applies here, but it is a hard concept for some surviving family members to adjust to. It falls in the realm of wrongful death but may be addressed in a criminal case as well.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
There are limits as to how long you have to file a lawsuit alleging a wrongful death. The statute of limitations, or time limits, for each state vary, so even though you are dealing with your grief, if you are considering filing a lawsuit against those responsible for your loss, you should schedule a consultation to speak with an attorney to learn what your timeframe is for initiating the claim.
Failing to meet the deadline imposed by the state’s law can keep you from ever attempting to file a civil lawsuit to seek justice for your loved one’s death. Often, the statute of limitations is two years, but that is not always the case.
You also need to discuss your right to file the lawsuit with an attorney. Each state has its own set of laws that pertain to who can pursue a wrongful death case. Your attorney will be able to help you understand your rights and limitations and explain what to expect should you file the lawsuit.
This right is normally not contested if you are the victim’s spouse, child, or parent, but other family members may be given the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit depending on your state. If you are unsure as to where you stand in legally pursuing compensation and accountability for your family member’s wrongful death, schedule an appointment for a free consultation with the experts at Hershey Law.
Understanding Compensation and Insurance in Your Wrongful Death Case
Each situation is unique and each set of circumstances play a role in the potential compensation awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. Compensation is paid out in the form of “losses” and while the financial benefits can never make up for your loss, they are intended to help you compensate for the income you have lost, the medical bills the victim may have accrued, funeral and burial expenses, and the grief and suffering that you as the survivor are going through.
General compensation for damages often includes rewards for things such as:
- Any pain and suffering the victim went through prior to their death,
- Medical costs accrued by the victim due to the negligent act,
- Funeral and burial expenses,
- Survivor’s loss of income and potential inheritance of the deceased, and
- Loss of care, guidance, and companionship from the victim.
In addition to these types of losses, you may also be able to pursue compensation for punitive or exemplary damages. These types of damages are awarded when the actions leading to the wrongful death are so extreme or egregious that the court feels that the responsible party needs to be additionally punished for their conduct.
However, collecting the damages awarded in your wrongful death suit may not be quite so cut and dried. To begin with, the burden of proof is on you as the defendant. You, usually through working with your lawyer, must prove that the defendant’s actions were, indeed, negligent, and your loved one passed as a direct result of those actions.
Once you have successfully proven that to the jury or judge, they will award damages that the defendant must pay to you. But if there is no insurance and the defendant has no assets, getting that compensation can be difficult.
In many cases, there may be insurance coverage that is responsible for the defendant’s compensation. This is common in motor vehicle accidents and medical malpractice, but it’s not always guaranteed.
Additionally, in some wrongful death lawsuits more than one party is responsible for the victim’s death. In these cases, each party’s responsibility has to be determined and their portion of the compensation accordingly decided.
While your attorney is investigating the events that led to your loved one’s death, they may come across actions or inactions that make another person or business at least partly responsible for the fatality. For instance, if the actions leading to the person’s death took place in a public building, that building may have been able to at least partially attempt to keep the actions from occurring had they had adequate security.
The Difference Between a Criminal Case and a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The person or parties responsible for your loved one’s death may not necessarily be convicted criminally. Even if they are not tried in a criminal case, you can still pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
Criminal prosecuting attorneys have to work by the legal standard of assuring enough evidence to prove the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” When it comes to accusing someone of murder in a wrongful death case, this can be a very difficult standard to prove, as reasonable doubt can be cast on almost anything in the right lighting.
However, wrongful death lawsuits are pursued civilly and do not have to abide by those high standards. In a civil lawsuit, the side with the most evidence generally wins. The plaintiff still has the burden of proof, but it is easier to prove that it was more likely that their claim was true that false.
The Right Representation Can Make All the Difference
No matter what your lawsuit is alleging, it is important to have someone who can present your side of the situation. In some smaller cases you may feel comfortable doing this yourself, but in a wrongful death lawsuit your successful resolution hinges on your expert legal representation.
Your next step will be to schedule a consultation with an attorney who can evaluate your case and discuss the potential outcomes, what will be expected of you during the lawsuit, and compensation that you may be able to obtain. This initial evaluation is often at no charge.
Once you have initially consulted with an attorney and you understand your rights and the timeframe you need to be operating under, you can decide whether or not you want to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you make the decision to file a lawsuit, you are doing so to ensure justice for your loved one is sought. You have suffered an incredible loss that money will never make up for. But knowing that those who were responsible for your family member were held accountable can aid you in closing the chapter and moving on to begin the healing process.
Call us at Hershey Law to schedule your free consultation and see how we can help you move forward.