Regardless of the circumstances, losing a loved one is one of the toughest challenges that a person will ever have to face in his or her lifetime. This difficult situation can be even harder to deal with, however, when a person finds themselves mourning the sudden and unanticipated death of someone they love due to another person’s wrongful actions. Coping with the reality that a loved one’s death could have been avoided can add a great deal of trauma to an already grieving family.
If you are suffering the devastating loss of a loved one due to another person’s improper conduct, it’s important to know that you don’t have to face your struggle alone. The team of wrongful death attorneys at Fielding Law are standing by to help you obtain the justice you deserve for the loss you shouldn’t be suffering.
When a person falls victim to another individual’s negligence, he or she can file a personal injury lawsuit in order to obtain financial compensation for the injuries he or she suffered. In contrast to the average personal injury case, though, a deceased person is unable to fight to protect his or her legal interests after an accident. Because of this, laws exist in each state which allow for the estate of a deceased victim to bring a civil action to hold a person accountable for their negligent or intentional conduct. This form of lawsuit is called a wrongful death claim. Common examples of conduct which can lead to a wrongful death claim include:
As a general rule, a loved one or family member can bring a wrongful death claim for any injury which would have allowed the deceased victim to bring a personal injury claim on his or her own if he or she were alive. For example, if a person is injured in a car crash that was caused due to another person’s negligent driving, he or she could bring a personal injury claim against the driver. If the deceased victim died from injuries related to a car accident that was another driver’s fault, in contrast, a family member or personal representative of the victim’s estate could instead file a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver.
These two forms of civil action are also similar in that, plaintiffs of wrongful death claims can oftentimes secure many of the same forms of financial compensation that a plaintiff in a personal injury claim could be awarded.
It’s important to note that no federal statute exists which governs these forms of civil actions; rather, each state maintains its own laws concerning who can bring a wrongful death claim and how they can do so. As such, if you are thinking of filing a wrongful death claim for the loss of your loved one, it’s critical to find an attorney who has experience handling these claims in your specific state.
Generally, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate. These actions are initiated on behalf of certain surviving family members and loved ones of the deceased victim. These individuals are called “beneficiaries.” Who can be named a beneficiary of the deceased person’s estate varies from state to state, but may include:
Aside from these eligible family members, which are uniform across most states, the rights of other relations to bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased differs from state to state. As states disagree as to the level of relationship a person must have to the deceased victim in order to be named as a beneficiary, it’s important to seek assistance from a qualified wrongful death attorney in order to see if you may have legal standing to bring a claim. As a general rule, however, the more distant the family relationship to the victim—such as aunts, uncles, or cousins—the lesser the chance that you can be named as a beneficiary.
Generally, a wrongful death action is instituted because of an accident or injury that is caused by another person’s careless actions. This carelessness is called “negligence.” In the world of law, negligence is defined as a failure to take reasonable care to avoid causing injury to another person. This legal doctrine has four elements, and each element must be proven by a beneficiary of a wrongful death action in order for the action to be successful. These elements include:
Duty. The beneficiary of a wrongful death action must first show that the wrongdoer who caused the victim’s death—also known as the “defendant”—owed a duty of care to the victim. We all owe each other a duty of reasonable care to protect from harm in specific circumstances; when you are driving a car, for example, you owe a duty of care to other drivers and pedestrians to operate your vehicle in a safe manner.
Breach. It isn’t enough that a beneficiary, or “plaintiff”, in a wrongful death suit prove that the at-fault party owed the deceased victim a duty of care; he or she must also prove that the person breached that duty of care, or failed to act in a reasonable and careful manner. In a car accident, for example, a person could prove a breach of this duty if it could be shown that the driver was speeding, texting while driving, or otherwise operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner.
Causation. Once a duty of care—along with a breach of that duty—is established, a plaintiff must show that the breach of duty caused the victim’s injuries and resulting death.
Damages. This is the final element of the legal doctrine of negligence and is, unfortunately, the easiest to prove—damages in a wrongful death case are the injuries and death of the victim, along with the repercussion of the loss to the victim’s family members.
The compensation that a beneficiary of a deceased loved one’s estate can recover in a wrongful death action varies from state to state, so it’s critical to seek advice from an experienced wrongful death attorney in your state in order to get a better idea of the compensation that you might be able to recover. In general, however, a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim can recover several forms of compensation, including:
Reasonable funeral and burial expenses. When you are not prepared to bury a loved one, the cost of doing so can come as an unexpected shock—funerals and burial arrangements can cost tens of thousands of dollars. More cost-effective options such as cremation can still run several thousand dollars. A wrongful death claim can help you recoup the unanticipated costs of laying your loved one to rest.
Medical expenses. If your loved one struggled to survive before his or her ultimate death, you may be left with a crippling load of medical bills that were incurred in a fight to keep your loved one alive. A successful wrongful death claim can compensate you for the mountainous medical expenses that were accumulated in this battle, including hospital stays, surgical expenses, and palliative care.
Emotional pain and suffering of survivors. The death of a loved one can be absolutely devastating to a surviving family member. Although there is no amount of compensation which will lessen this emotional trauma, a wrongful death claim takes this suffering into account, and financial compensation can be awarded for this emotional anguish. Surviving beneficiaries can also sue for the loss of love, affection, guidance, moral support, and comfort the deceased provided.
Property damage. If the at-fault party’s negligence resulted in property damage, such as a vehicle which was damaged or totaled in a car accident, a wrongful death action can provide compensation to cover the costs of repairing or replacing the vehicle.
Punitive damages. In rare cases, the person who caused your loved one’s death may have engaged in actions that were so heinous that a typical award of damages is determined to be insufficient. If your loved one’s death was the result of criminal activity or gross negligence, you may be entitled to receive additional “punitive” damages. As its name suggests, punitive damages are meant to serve as a punishment to the at-fault party, as well as to serve as an example to discourage similar behavior by others in the future.
In many accidents and injuries resulting in a victim’s wrongful death, the victim does not pass away instantly. If your loved one struggled to survive after his or her accident but ultimately lost this fight, you may be able to bring a separate “survival action,” which is a form of civil action that allows a deceased victim’s estate to sue for injuries and damages suffered by the victim from the moment of the accident to the time of the victim’s death. Examples of compensation which can be awarded in a successful survival action include pain and suffering which the victim endured before his or her death, along with income that the individual lost due to not being able to work before his or her death.
If you are facing the traumatic aftermath of the unanticipated loss of someone you love, you already know that there is no amount of money that can minimize the devastation of your loss—you can’t put a dollar amount on the time a child has lost with his father or the companionship that was stripped away from a spouse. You can, however, take steps to rebuild the financial stability that was lost after your loved one’s death and hold the at-fault party accountable for the death which never should have happened. At Fielding Law, our team of wrongful death attorneys is dedicated to helping our clients alleviate the strain of a sudden loss by recouping some of the income that was relied upon before their loved one’s death. Don’t wait until it is too late to obtain the legal representation you deserve—no matter the time of day, to speak with a member of our legal team, fill out an online case evaluation form or call (877) 880-4090 today. Our consultations are always free, so you have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain.