Wrongful death lawsuit damages may address the economic loss of a loved one, but not the pain of that person’s unexpected and sudden death.
By legal definition, a wrongful death is “A death caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another and that serves as the basis for a civil action for damages on behalf of the deceased’s heirs.” While many people assume a wrongful death suit is a criminal case, it is not. However having said that, a wrongful death case may follow a criminal case, and the best-known example of that is the OJ Simpson affair.
In instances of wrongful death, those left behind are called dependents or beneficiaries and because of this death, they are entitled to damages (meaning money) due to the negligent actions of the defendant. This is not a normal negligence lawsuit either.
To explain the differences between a wrongful death civil case and a normal negligence lawsuit one has to know a bit of history first. Under the common law, a wrongful death claim didn’t exist. The reason being it was believed that the claim died with the victim, so how could s/he be compensated for damages? This meant survivors couldn’t ask for damages from the person who caused the death.
Eventually realizing this was a rather backwards and exclusionary approach to justice, the states remedied that glaring error by passing what is called “wrongful death statutes.” These statutes specifically provide compensation for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Not all states have the same statutes and you would need to talk to an expert attorney to find out what the rules for filing are in your particular state.
While most of the state wrongful death statutes are considered to be unique, they do follow the same general principles. This means that there are four common elements in all states for a wrongful death claim. The first element is that the death was caused partly or wholly, by the conduct of the defendant.
The second is that the defendant was negligent or in the alternative, strictly liable for the victim’s demise. Element three is that there is a surviving spouse, children, dependents or beneficiaries. The final element is that monetary damages have resulted from the victim’s death. If a case meets these elements, then it must also meet the statute of limitations for filing, and in most states the claim must be filed within a year of the death.
The courts have a great deal of discretion in what type of damages they may award. For instance they may award for emotional pain and suffering, for the loss of future earnings, funeral expenses, medical costs and loss of benefits (e.g. health, life etc.). In some instances the court may also award punitive damages based on the facts of the case.
If your have lost a loved one and want to find out about filing a wrongful death lawsuit, contact an attorney who is highly experienced in this area of the law. These cases are not easy and having a competent lawyer guide you and your family through the process will make things that much easier in the long run.
Robert Webb is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer with Webb & D’Orazio, a law firm specializing in Atlanta personal injury, malpractice, criminal defense, and business law. Learn more at Webbdorazio.com.