A Brief Guide to Wrongful Death Lawsuits
If an individual dies because of the actions of another person, their family may be able to file a lawsuit to receive compensation for funeral expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, or other damages. Wrongful death lawsuits are only applicable in certain situations, though, and the process of proving fault can be lengthy. If you’re looking into hiring a wrongful death lawyer in Queens, you should understand what a wrongful death case is, who is eligible to file a claim, and what your attorney will need to prove in order to win the suit.
What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a case against an individual or an entity who caused someone’s death by negligence or wrongful conduct. This covers a wide variety of situations in which a wrongful death may occur. The following are some of the most common circumstances:
- Medical malpractice
- Car accident
- Workplace hazards or accidents
- Premise liability accidents
- Criminal behavior
A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed regardless of whether the death was intentional or unintentional. For example, if someone hurts a person during a fight and the injury later causes that person’s death, the family can file a wrongful death suit. In many cases, though, wrongful death lawsuits involve unintentional accidents, such as car accidents.
The statute of limitations for wrongful death cases varies from state to state. However, if the cause of death wasn’t discovered until after the statute of limitations has ended, you may still be able to file a lawsuit.
Who Can File a Claim?
The person who files a wrongful death lawsuit must be a representative of the victim and the survivors who have suffered damages resulting from the death. Typically, the executor of the victim’s estate will file the claim on behalf of the family.
Different states have different statutes regarding who is eligible to file a wrongful death suit. In all states, spouses and children can file. In some states, domestic partners can file even if they weren’t legally married to the deceased person. Some states allow anyone who has financially suffered to file a lawsuit no matter how they’re connected to the victim. The more distantly you’re related to the victim, though, the more difficult it can be to prove that you’re entitled to damages.
Who Can Be Sued?
Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against individuals, companies, government agencies, and other entities. In some cases, the death results from the actions of a single person. In other cases, the death occurred because of a company’s harmful practices or negligence.
For instance, a car accident could lead to a lawsuit against several different entities depending on the circumstances of the crash. If the person was hit by a drunk driver, that driver would likely be the defendant in the case. If the accident occurred because of a vehicle malfunction, the victim’s family could sue the manufacturer. If the victim crashed because they encountered a road hazard that wasn’t properly marked, the government agency responsible for marking the roads may be found liable.
Most states have at least a few exceptions to these guidelines. Government agencies are sometimes immune from wrongful death lawsuits. Some states have family immunity, which protects people from wrongful death cases filed by their family members. Family immunity can help to unify families as they navigate these difficult circumstances and to reduce the risk of families committing insurance fraud. However, this can also prevent children of wrongful death victims from collecting insurance money they’re legitimately entitled to, so many states do not offer family immunity.
Proving Wrongful Death
For a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, the plaintiff needs to prove that the defendant’s negligent actions directly caused the victim’s death. First, there must be proof that the defendant has a duty of due care, which means they have a responsibility to keep others safe and prevent harm. For instance, while driving, people have an obligation not to endanger others on the road.
Next, the plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant breached their duty of care. This involves collecting evidence that the defendant acted negligently or neglected to fulfill their responsibilities. Then, the plaintiff can argue that the breach of duty resulted in the death of the victim.
There are two major types of damages a defendant may be be required to pay if they are found guilty: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages are intended to cover the money the family or other representatives lost due to the wrongful death. This includes the following expenses:
- Medical costs due to injury before death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income from victim
- Loss of inheritance due to early death
- Value of services the victim could have provided
Compensatory damages can also include compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering before they passed away. This can be harder to quantify, but the court will consider the severity of the pain, whether or not the victim remained conscious, and other circumstances to determine the amount of the damages.
Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their actions and may be awarded when the defendant acted maliciously or severely negligently. It’s not as common for plaintiffs to recover punitive damages as it is for them to recover compensatory damages. The possibility of receiving punitive damages depends on your location and on the circumstances of the wrongful death.
Receiving damages can help a family find some support and stability as they heal from a tragic situation. Like with all lawsuits, it’s important to work with a trustworthy and reputable attorney during a wrongful death case. Proving the defendant’s responsibility for the death can be difficult, but a lawyer with experience in this area will know how to collect the most compelling evidence and put together a strong argument. You can reach out to a wrongful death lawyer in Queens if you have any questions or concerns about your case.
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