Wrongful deaths are defined as the death of an individual that is the result of another party’s negligence or actions. There are many situations and circumstances that can result in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Every state sets forth wrongful death laws for its jurisdiction. It is essential to understand the laws for the state in which the victim died because certain states only allow the decedent’s executor/personal rep to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Must be Proven in the Lawsuit?
The plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim (which is typically the deceased victim's estate) are required to meet the same burden of proof as the victim would have had to meet if they had not died.
The four elements of a negligence lawsuit include –
- The Duty of Care – this is an obligation that someone has to use reasonable care to avoid placing another in danger or injuring another. This is often challenging to prove because there are no specific laws on the books that dictate – for the most part - the exact behavior of an individual at all times (as compared to a vehicle code that would simplify this situation).
- Did the defendant owe the victim a reasonable and specific duty of care?
- The Breach of the Duty of Care – the breach of a duty of care would involve injuring someone or placing them needlessly in a dangerous situation.
- Did the defendant breach a duty of care to the victim in this circumstance?
- The Causation of the Breach of Duty – when someone has been shown to have breached a duty of care, their legal responsibility has been established. However, while someone’s actions may be deemed negligent, the negligent behavior may not always be the cause (or the only cause) for the injury and resulting damages.
- Is the defendant’s breach of duty a direct (proximate) cause of the victim’s death and the resulting damages?
- The Damages Resulting from the Negligence – in the legal arena, common negligence damages refer to –
- Emotional injuries.
- Physical injuries.
- Lost income.
- Property damage, among other types of damages.
- Did the defendant’s breach of duty cause of the damages in the lawsuit?
Situations That May Cause a Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful deaths can happen in a variety of settings and circumstances. These are discussed below.
Fatal Injuries in the Workplace
Certain industries require employees to work within innately dangerous areas (like construction, for example) or to use heavy equipment as a regular part of their professional responsibilities.
However, each employer has a duty – its duty to care - to ensure the equipment and working conditions are reasonably safe for employees. This duty includes the proper maintenance of equipment and the adherence to safety protocols implemented to protect employees, among others. Employers are tasked with the responsibility of eliminating as much danger as reasonably possible.
Should an individual become acutely injured at work that ultimately leads to their death, an investigation must begin immediately regarding the individual's exact cause of death. However, it is noted that not every work-related death is inflicted critically and acutely. For instance, many cancers, like mesothelioma, take years to develop, and diagnosis, while working in unsafe working conditions.
It is the responsibility of a wrongful death attorney to analyze the situation regarding a death that occurred at the workplace and determine the eligible party for submitting a wrongful death case, should the facts warrant a lawsuit. A wrongful death attorney offers guidance for the victim’s family members as they navigate the justice system seeking compensation for damages and loss.
Medical care is needed throughout each individual’s life. Yet, within the same medical model that is designed to protect patients, some tragically lose their life.
Note, though, there are legitimate medical procedures that are given despite the very real and calculated risk associated with the procedure, which may result in a patient's death without being caused by someone else's negligence.
Medical malpractice can often be quite challenging to prove, so it is recommended that a wrongful death victim’s family/estate choose an experienced wrongful death attorney to help guide them through the legal process.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Sadly, automobile accidents can forever alter the lives of the people involved in the accident. In a moment, an accident caused by a distracted, negligent, or intoxicated driver can cause catastrophic injuries and death.
However, road defects or improperly marked construction areas may also be responsible for the accident.
The cause of many accidents is not always immediately known, so it is the job of a wrongful death attorney to determine the responsible party by proving their liability with documentation that can be supported in a court of law.
Expediency is vital in wrongful death lawsuits because crucial evidence may disappear, and witnesses may begin to have hazy memories, over time.
Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death lawsuits are initiated on behalf of the deceased victim. These lawsuits seek monetary damages for -
- The decedent's pain and suffering that occurred before they died. This is sometimes referred to as a survival claim.
- The decedent's medical expenses from the injury, prior to the victim's death.
- The victim's lost inheritance because of death.
- The decedent’s Burial & Funeral Expenses.
- The victim’s Loss of Expected Wages or Future Earnings Capacity.
- The Family’s Loss of Love and Companionship of the decedent.
- Loss of Consortium Claims – noneconomic claims for which money can only be roughly estimated to cover the loss. These claims cover damages for Shock, Humiliation, Reputation Loss, Emotion Distress, and Mental Anguish, to name a few.