Legal Topics

Pile of books and Wrongful death lawsuit
10-Jun-2024

Guide to Wrongful Death Lawsuits: Filing and Fighting

Losing a loved one is always a profoundly traumatic experience, but the pain can be compounded when the death is due to someone else's negligence or intentional actions. In such cases, the surviving family members may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about wrongful death lawsuits, including what constitutes wrongful death, the types of cases that fall under this category, who can sue and be sued, the process of filing and fighting a lawsuit, potential settlements and compensation, and the importance of legal representation.

Understanding Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is a legal term that refers to a situation where someone dies as a result of another party's negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct. Unlike criminal cases where the state prosecutes the wrongdoer, wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits brought by the deceased's family members or estate.

The primary purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to seek compensation for the survivors' losses, which can include funeral expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Different Types of Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful death cases can arise from various circumstances. Some common types include:

  1. Medical Malpractice: When a healthcare professional's negligence leads to a patient's death.
  2. Car Accidents: Fatalities resulting from negligent or reckless driving, including drunk driving and distracted driving.
  3. Workplace Accidents: Deaths occurring due to unsafe working conditions or employer negligence.
  4. Defective Products: Fatalities caused by unsafe or malfunctioning products.
  5. Premises Liability: Deaths resulting from unsafe conditions on someone else's property, such as slip and fall accidents.
  6. Criminal Acts: Homicides or other intentional acts that result in death.

Who has the Right to Sue for Wrongful Death?

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the right to sue is typically granted to close family members of the deceased. This includes the deceased's spouse, children (minor and adult), and parents. In some jurisdictions, siblings, grandparents, or other extended family members may also have the right to sue if they were financially dependent on the deceased. 

Additionally, the executor or administrator of the deceased's estate may have the right to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the estate and its beneficiaries. This can include any financial dependents or heirs who would have inherited from the deceased if they had lived. 

The specific rules regarding who can sue for wrongful death vary by jurisdiction, so it's essential to consult with a qualified attorney to understand your rights under the law. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help determine who has the legal standing to file a lawsuit and can guide you through the process of seeking justice for your loved one's death.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Wrongful Death?

Depending on the circumstances of a wrongful death lawsuit, various parties can be held liable. Individuals, corporations, government agencies, and other entities can be named defendants. 

For example, in a car accident case, the driver who caused the accident may be held liable. If the accident was due to a defect in the vehicle, the manufacturer could also be named as a defendant. In a medical malpractice case, the healthcare provider who made a mistake that led to the death could be held liable, as well as the hospital or clinic where the provider works. 

Employers can be held liable for wrongful death if the death occurred due to unsafe working conditions or the negligence of an employee. Property owners can also be held liable if a dangerous condition on their property caused the death that they failed to address. 

Determining liability in a wrongful death case can be complex, and it often requires a thorough investigation and analysis of the facts. An experienced attorney can help identify all potentially liable parties and build a strong compensation case.

Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit involves several critical steps:

  1. Consult an Attorney: It's crucial to seek legal advice to understand your rights and the viability of your case.
  2. Investigate the Claim: Gather evidence to support the claim, including medical records, accident reports, and witness statements.
  3. File a Complaint: The attorney will file a wrongful death complaint in the appropriate court, outlining the lawsuit's basis and the damages sought.
  4. Serve the Defendants: The complaint must be formally delivered to the defendants, notifying them of the lawsuit.
  5. Discovery Process: Both sides will gather evidence through depositions, interrogatories, and document requests.
  6. Settlement Negotiations: Many wrongful death cases are settled out of court. Attorneys will negotiate to reach a fair settlement.
  7. Trial: If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial, where both sides present their evidence and arguments.

Fighting a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Defending against a wrongful death lawsuit requires a thorough understanding of the legal principles and the ability to mount a strong defense. Here are some strategies that defendants and their legal teams may use:

Dispute Liability

The defendant may argue that they were not responsible for the death. This could involve presenting evidence to show that the actions or omissions alleged by the plaintiff did not occur or that they were not the cause of the death.

Question Causation

Even if the defendant's actions did contribute to the death, they may argue that other factors were primarily responsible. For example, in a medical malpractice case, the defendant might argue that the patient's underlying health condition, rather than the defendant's actions, led to the death.

Comparative Negligence

The defendant may argue that the deceased was partially or wholly responsible for their death. This defense is based on the principle of comparative negligence, which allows for a reduction in damages if the plaintiff's actions contributed to the harm.

Challenge Damages

The defendant may dispute the amount of compensation being sought by the plaintiff. This could involve questioning the validity or extent of the claimed losses, such as challenging the need for specific medical treatments or disputing the calculation of lost wages.

File Pre-Trial Motions

Before the case goes to trial, the defendant may file motions to have the case dismissed on legal grounds. For example, they may argue that the statute of limitations has expired or that the court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

Settlement Negotiations

In many cases, defendants and their insurers seek to settle the case out of court. This can help avoid the uncertainty and expense of a trial, but it requires careful negotiation to ensure that any settlement is fair and reasonable.

Know the Wrongful Death Settlements & Compensation

Wrongful death settlements aim to provide financial compensation to the surviving family members of a deceased individual whose death was caused by the negligence or misconduct of another party. These settlements typically cover various damages, including economic and non-economic losses.

Economic damages may include funeral and burial expenses, medical bills related to the deceased's final injury or illness, loss of financial support, and the value of services the deceased would have provided if they had lived. On the other hand, non-economic damages are more subjective. They may include compensation for the emotional pain and suffering experienced by the surviving family members, loss of companionship, and loss of guidance and support.

In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. These are intended to punish the defendant for egregious conduct and deter others from engaging in similar behavior. The amount of compensation awarded in a wrongful death settlement can vary widely depending on the specific circumstances of the case, including the age and health of the deceased, their earning capacity, the extent of their dependents' loss, and the nature of the defendant's conduct.

Hiring an Attorney for a Wrongful Death Suit

While it is technically possible to file a wrongful death lawsuit without an attorney, it is highly advisable to seek professional legal representation. Wrongful death cases are complex and require a thorough understanding of the law, investigative solid skills, and the ability to negotiate effectively. An experienced wrongful death attorney can provide valuable assistance by:

  1. Evaluating Your Case: Determining the viability and potential value of your claim.
  2. Gathering Evidence: Collecting and preserving crucial evidence to support your case.
  3. Navigating Legal Procedures: Handling all the legal paperwork and procedural requirements.
  4. Negotiating Settlements: Engaging in settlement negotiations to achieve a fair outcome.
  5. Representing You in Court: Advocating during the trial if necessary.

Conclusion

A wrongful death lawsuit can never truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, but it can provide financial support and a sense of justice for the survivors. Understanding the intricacies of wrongful death claims is crucial for those seeking to pursue or defend such a lawsuit. By comprehensively covering the types of wrongful death cases, the parties involved, and the legal processes involved. Seeking the counsel of a qualified wrongful death attorney is essential to ensuring that your rights are protected and that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Subscribe Your Email for Newsletter