What does wrongful death mean?

What does wrongful death mean?

A wrongful death happens when someone’s life is taken by the negligent (or willful) actions of another person. It is noted that a wrongful death case is independent of any criminal charges that might result from the victim’s death. Essentially, this means that a person may be acquitted of murder charges in a criminal case, but still, be sued civilly for the actions that caused the wrongful death.

The heirs or beneficiaries of the deceased victim typically file the lawsuit on behalf of the victim in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, each state government sets forth the laws (in this case, Tort Law) regarding wrongful death cases as to who is permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit should the situation warrant.

For those individuals who have lost a family member or a loved one to wrongful death, it is essential to learn more about wrongful death cases and the laws in the state in which the decedent died before jumping headfirst into a wrongful death lawsuit.

Important Facets of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The actions that cause a wrongful death can be deemed intentional or intentional.  

  • An example of intentional actions that causes a wrongful death would include an altercation that leads to a blow to the head of the victim who later dies.
  • An example of unintentional actions that causes a wrongful death – a driver causes an accident that leads to the death of a passenger or driver in another vehicle. 

It is important to note that a wrongful death cannot occur with regard to a fetus because an individual’s legal status is not granted until the moment they are born. Note, though, an infant who is born alive, who later dies from the negligent (or willful) actions of another, may warrant a wrongful death lawsuit.

Who is Allowed to Sue on Behalf of the Decedent in a Wrongful Death lawsuit?

The individuals who are allowed to sue for wrongful death on behalf of the decedent will be delineated in the state’s statutes. Many states permit the surviving spouse to seek compensation for damages – even if there has been a separation between the parties – but not if the surviving spouse has failed to pay support or has been found guilty of desertion/abandonment. 

Some states allow children to sue for wrongful death, while other states require the children to be only minor children.

Are there Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death Case?

State law dictates the amount and type of damages available to statutory beneficiaries permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

Compensatory Damages

The most common compensatory damages are awarded to make restitution for money lost. In a wrongful death lawsuit, successful plaintiffs may receive funeral or medical expenses, plus future income support from the decedent, had they lived. Compensatory damages can also include recovery of damages for loss of companionship or grief.

In determining the amount of damages resulting from wrongful death, the court will consider many relevant variables. Actuarial tables are used as guidance regarding one’s life expectancy. The decedent’s salary and potential earnings will also be reflected in the court’s decision. If the victim was not employed, the court has set forth annual amounts to reflect the services of those who take care of children at home or those who are responsible for the home’s upkeep.

Punitive Damages

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 Punitive damages are those damages awarded to punish a defendant who has behaved in a reckless or depraved manner. If the wrongful death lawsuit has more than one plaintiff , punitive damages will be divided among survivors in accordance with state law. Often, punitive damages are divided based upon each beneficiary’s calculable loss.

A Word About Family Immunity

It is important to note that there is a doctrine called Family Immunity in the arena of wrongful deaths. Family Immunity is traditionally an exception that protects family members from being sued by another family member. And while family immunity was designed to maintain family peace and keep families from conspiring to fleece insurance carriers, this doctrine began to prevent children from legally collecting insurance money. It is for this reason that many states have either revised (or omitted) this exception.  



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