Wrongful death claims are brought against a defendant who caused someone’s death either by negligence or as a result of some intentional action. Wrongful death claims allow the estate and those that are close to a deceased person to file a lawsuit against the party who is legally liable for the death.
When Is a Wrongful Death Claim Applicable?
A wrongful death claim can arise after situations in which a victim who would otherwise have a valid personal injury claim is killed as a result of the defendant’s wrongful action. This can occur in a variety of situations, including:
When a victim is intentionally killed. For an example, O.J. Simpson was sued in civil court for the wrongful deaths of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. These civil lawsuits brought by the families of the victims were separate from the criminal case against Simpson.
When a victim dies as a result of medical malpractice. If a doctor fails to diagnose a condition, or if the doctor is careless in the level of care provided, and a patient dies as a result, a wrongful death action might be possible against the doctor.
Car accident fatalities involving negligence. If a victim dies as a result of car accident injuries, a wrongful death claim may be brought.
These are just a few examples of personal injury cases that can turn into wrongful death claims. A wrongful death claim can stem from almost any kind of personal injury situation, although one notable exception may exist for work injuries that result in death, which usually must be handled exclusively through the worker’s compensation system.
What Must Be Proven?
In order to hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs in the claim must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet had the victim lived. Using negligence as an example, this means showing that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, that the defendant breached this duty, that the breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the death, and that the death caused the damages that the plaintiff is trying to recover.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is usually filed by a representative of the estate of the deceased victim, on behalf of survivors who had a relationship with the victim.
Wrongful Death Damages
Damages in a wrongful death claim—categories of losses for which a survivor might be able to receive compensation—include:
The deceased person’s pre-death pain and sufferingor survival claim.
The medical treatment costs that the deceased victim incurred as a result of the injury prior to death funeral and burial costs.
Loss of the deceased person’s expected income.
Loss of any inheritance as a result of the death.
Value of the services that the deceased would have provided.
Loss of care, guidance, and nurturing that the deceased would have provided.
Loss of love and companionship.
Loss of consortium.