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Summary

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against any person or organization seen to be responsible for another person's death whether it be accidental or deliberate. You should discuss the details of your case with a wrongful death lawyer.

There are many reasons why someone would want to file a wrongful death claim or personal injury lawsuit: medical malpractice; a dangerous workplace or building site; a faulty product; defective equipment; an airplane, train or highway accident; nursing home neglect; food poisoning; drug toxicity; shooting, choking or accidental drowning or even alleged murder.

In order for an accidental death to meet the criteria of a wrongful death lawsuit, loss of life must have been caused, in whole or in part, by the conduct of another party even though there may have been no intention of bringing harm to the victim. In order to win your case the wrongful death claim must also be proven. 

Wrongful death cases are always decided in a civil court rather than in the criminal justice system. This is because wrongful death trials are about financial compensation for the loss of life rather than seeking punishment such as jail time for a criminal act. While no amount of money can truly compensate for the death of loved one, civil courts are equipped to award judgments in cases of this type.

Because a dead person cannot sue, wrongful death lawsuits are brought by a decedent’s surviving relatives or the estate, usually a surviving spouse, but also his/her children or parents with the help of a wrongful death lawyer.

Wrongful death claims hold every individual involved accountable; when a human life has been lost through the oversight of another.  These lawsuits serve as a useful reminder to companies, manufacturers and even government entities that they are ultimately responsible if one of their workers, clients or a consumer should accidentally die through their negligence.

States generally impose a time limit (known as a statute of limitation) within which a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed. This time limit can vary from state to state. For example in California, Florida and other states there is a two year statute of limitations on wrongful death claims, while in Arkansas there is a three year statute. Other states may have different limits. Some states even have caps on the amount of money that may be awarded. A wrongful death lawyer or personal injury attorney in your area can help you navigate through specific state statues and limitations. 

Compensation on a wrongful death claim is limited to one lump sum payment. The judge or an administrator decides allocation of the money among the respective heirs or claimants if a will has not been filed.

Who Can Sue

If the loss of a loved one was caused by another person or through the negligence of an institution, you and your family could be eligible to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. .

Because the statue of limitations and other factors may play a role in your right to sue, don’t jeopardize your legal options by waiting too long to decide. Consult an experienced wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible in order to determine if you are entitled to compensation.

Sorting out the details of a wrongful death claim can be complex.  Because of the various necessary requirements to file a claim, only a wrongful death lawyer who is experienced in the area of wrongful death lawsuits will ensure that your rights are fully protected.  .

When a family member dies through human error, the spouse or other surviving relatives are forced to deal not only with their own emotional pain but also with the financial burdens brought on by death, including the medical bills, burial costs and, in some cases, even the loss of a salaried income. 

When a nursing home resident dies as a direct result of negligence, neglect or abuse, wrongful death claims may be brought by surviving family members with the help of a wrongful death lawyer. If there are no family members in a wrongful death case, the executor of the decedent’s estate or an appointed administrator may sue on behalf of the estate for medical bills and funeral expenses. (If there is no will, the money is distributed according to state laws.)

Unfortunately, decisions about pursuing a wrongful death action need to be made at a time when the survivors are already pressed with other responsibilities to attend to.

Read More About Who Can Sue For A Wrongful Death Claim

Interesting Facts

The money paid for wrongful death settlements is generally tax-free. Compensatory damages awarded for wrongful death are always tax exempt to the survivors. Although punitive damages are usually taxable, they may depending on state law also be exempt from income tax if they are paid out as part of a wrongful death claim.  Wrongful death lawyers can help receive proper compensation.

In 2006, the family of deceased actor John Ritter reached a non-disclosed settlement amount in a wrongful death lawsuit with the California hospital where he died. Ritter collapsed on the set of his sitcom, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, after suffering chest pain, nausea and dizziness. In the lawsuit, Ritter's family claimed that doctors misdiagnosed him twice and he "underwent improper and unnecessary procedures."

Potential Recovery

Placing a value on a person’s life and determining what families are entitled to in wrongful death court cases can often be difficult. The method judges and juries use to place a dollar amount on the economic loss that results from the decedent’s death is to ask questions such as:

  • How much money did the decedent earn?
  • How much money did the decedent spend?
  • What household services did he/she provide?
  • How financially dependent were the survivors on the deceased?
Courts also take into account the loss of the decedent’s love, affection and companionship as well as their medical and burial expenses when establishing a wrongful death award. Contact a wrongful death lawyer or personal injury attorney to help receive proper compensation for your loss.

Failure to properly document every aspect of financial and emotional damage to a family caused by the wrongful death of the decedent can have a large impact on the recovery amount. The hiring of an experienced wrongful death lawyer will ensure that your case is handled correctly and with your best interest in mind.

  Following are examples of wrongful death cases and the resulting jury awards:

  • $3,000,000 awarded to the estate of a 41-year old California security guard, who was killed in a highway accident in 2003, as the result of a double tractor trailer which caused the crash.

  • $16,700,000 awarded to the parents of an 11-year old California girl who choked to death after eating a piece of candy from a foreign manufacturer which was made with a gel which did not break down well in the mouth, and became stuck in her throat.

  • $1,200,000 awarded to the family of a New Jersey motorcycle police officer who was hit head-on by a distracted motorist talking on the cell phone while trying to drive her Navigator around a traffic circle. The force of the collision threw the officer 40 feet to his death.
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