What is a Wrongful Death Case?
When an individual perishes because of the negligent actions of another party or entity, surviving family members can sue the responsible person for damages in a wrongful death civil lawsuit. The laws surrounding wrongful death claims and the procedures dictating how the lawsuit is controlled are different in each state, but there are also common principles present in every wrongful death case.
A wrongful death criminal case is one brought about by a prosecutor or district attorney and may result in hefty fines or imprisonment for the responsible party, but criminal cases do not award any damages to the surviving family members. This is done with a civil wrongful death lawsuit instead.
For a wrongful death civil case, the surviving family members may be able to recover compensation for a number of different damages such as:
- Loss in affection, comfort, love, companionship, and support that the wrongfully deceased would have provided.
- Value of the household income and services that the wrongfully deceased would have provided were they still alive.
- Value of the income that the wrongfully deceased would have received if they were still alive.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death Injuries
Below are some of the most common situations that lead to wrongful death in the United States.
- Car, truck, or bus accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Defective products
- Exposure to occupational hazards
- Infant injuries caused at birth
- Premises accidents caused by negligent security or a slip & fall
- Physical violence
- Nursing home neglect or abuse
- Medical malpractice
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations, or time the plaintiff has to legally pursue the wrongful death claim, is a different length in each state. It’s at least 1 year long in every state in the country, but for wrongful death claims brought against government employees, the limitation is as little as 30 days in some cases.
|District of Columbia||3 years|
|New Hampshire||3 years|
|New Jersey 2 years||2 years|
|New Hampshire||3 years|
|New Jersey||2 years|
|New Mexico||3 years|
|New York||3 years|
|North Carolina||3 years|
|North Dakota||2 years|
|Rhode Island||3 years|
|South Carolina||3 years|
|South Dakota||3 years|
|West Virginia||2 years|
Elements Involved in Proving Wrongful Death
There are four major elements involved in proving negligence, recklessness, or carelessness in a wrongful death case. The plaintiff has to be able to show that the responsible driver had a duty to drive safely, that they breached that duty, that the breach of that duty led to the accident which caused the victim to wrongfully die, and that there were damages suffered as a result of the accident caused by the breach of duty to act as a reasonable person.
The first element that must be proven is that the defendant had a duty of care which constitutes a legal obligation to drive responsibly & reasonably. For example, driving under the influence is a breach of this duty to drive as a reasonable person would. Doctors and other medical health professionals are held to a duty of care that involves maintaining a patient’s health.
A judge is the one who decides whether or not the defendant was responsible for upholding their duty of care in a wrongful death case. Judges weigh a number of different factors in this decision such as the defendant’s moral disposition, findings from similar cases, how foreseeable the accident or harm was, and how closely the defendant’s actions and the harm caused were connected.
Proving Breach of Duty
Once it’s proven that the defendant had a duty to act reasonably, then the next element that must be proven is that the defendant breached that duty. For example, if the defendant was texting on their phone or doing something else that would cause them to turn attention away from the road, then the argument can be made that they’ve breached their duty as they’ve acted in a way in which a reasonable driver would not have.
The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant’s reckless, careless, or negligent actions caused a breach of that duty.
Next, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligent breach of duty directly caused harm to the decedent. For vehicle accidents, this could involve proving that the defendant’s inattentiveness to the road caused the fatal accident or that their vehicle was the one that struck & killed the decedent.
In some states, defendants can be held partially responsible for causing the wrongful death based on the % of fault they are found to be at for causing the accident or injury. For example, in California, if a defendant is found to be only 50% at fault for the accident, then the plaintiff may only be able to recover 50% of the damages resulting from the incident because they were not all caused by the defendant.
The final element that must be proven in addition to the other three is that the decedent suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s breach of duty. In wrongful death cases, the decedent’s death is considered to be the main form of damage if a breach of duty and causation has already been proven. If there is insufficient evidence to prove that the victim suffered harm or damages as a result of the breach of duty, then the plaintiff will likely not be able to win the case.
Evidence Used to Support Wrongful Death Claims
Many different types of evidence are used in wrongful death cases to prove the duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages allegedly caused by the defendant. These are common types of evidence that are submitted in wrongful death cases:
- Medical records & reports
- Accident scene photographs & third-party analysis
- Video footage of the accident from traffic monitors or witnesses
- Driving records and logs
- Police reports
- Expert testimony from accident reconstruction professionals
- Statements from eyewitnesses
Get in Touch with a Wrongful Death Lawyer at Heidari Law Group
If you’re looking for more information about wrongful death or want a free case evaluation, give us a call at Heidari Law Group today at 1-833-225-5454. You don’t have to face the courts alone. Our team of wrongful death lawyers has an extensive history in dealing with wrongful death cases around the U.S. and we understand the difficulties that families go through after the sudden loss of a loved one. We have the tools available to help you gather a variety of evidence to support your case and build a strong argument based on the facts.
The idea of trying to seek compensation after a loved one has died may seem overwhelming, or even unnecessary, but you deserve to be compensated for the injustices that your family has suffered at the hands of another’s negligence. Reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer today.