When someone dies because of the misconduct or negligence of another person, the surviving person’s family can make a claim of wrongful death. Most wrongful death cases are similar to criminal trials but require a lower standard of proof. For example, former actor and football star O.J. Simpson was not guilty in the murder case of 1994, since the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty. However, in a separate trial, he was found guilty for two victims’ wrongful death, because the plaintiffs presented proof of his guilt through a preponderance of evidence. The following are some of the basic elements of a wrongful death lawsuit.
What You Must Prove in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
When filing wrongful death claims, survivors must show that:
- The defendant (one being sued) caused the death (in part or completely) of the victim
- The defendant is either responsible for the victim’s death through negligence or strict liability
- The spouse, beneficiaries or dependents of the victim are alive
- The victim’s death has resulted in monetary losses, hence the need for compensation
Types of Cases Involving Wrongful Death
A claim of wrongful death arises when a victim, who would have sustained a personal injury, dies because of the negligence or unintentional actions of the defendant. Some of the situations involving wrongful death include:
- When a victim is killed intentionally
- When a victim dies due to medical malpractice
- When a victim dies from a car accident caused by negligence
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
The representative of a deceased victim’s estate is the person who usually initiates a wrongful death claim. The representative makes this claim on behalf of the beneficiaries or survivors of the victim. The definition of a victim’s survivors is different depending on where you are.
In all states, spouses can file wrongful death claims on behalf of their deceased spouses. The parents of minors can also file wrongful death claims against the death of their children. Minors are also allowed to get compensation for their parent’s death.
However, many states tend to disagree on the issue of whether adult children or parents of adult children can sue for wrongful death claims. The issue of whether extended relatives like cousins, uncles, aunts, or grandparents can be allowed to sue for wrongful death is also a matter of jurisdiction. In most cases, the more distant relatives of the deceased find it hard to benefit from wrongful death claims. In certain states, the deceased’s life partner, or anyone that can prove monetary dependence on a deceased person, can claim compensation in wrongful death cases.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
There are three types of damages that survivors can recover in a wrongful death claim. They include:
This is the value of financial assistance the victim would have provided to the survivors if he/she were alive. Economic damages include:
- Loss of the expected earnings of the victim
- Loss of benefits like medical coverage or pension plans of the victim
- Loss of inheritance due to the unexpected death of the victim
These are less tangible damages but are often more valuable than economic damages. Non-economic damages include:
- Loss of the protection, care, advice, guidance, nurturing, and training from the deceased
- Loss of companionship, society, and love from the deceased
- Damages due to the pain and suffering or mental anguish endured by the deceased’s survivors
These damages are given to punish the defendant for his/her conduct. While some states do not award these damages in wrongful death claims, in some cases, treble damages may be recovered. Treble damages are three times the actual damages and are mainly recovered against elderly homes for the abuse or death of senior victims.
Think you have a wrongful death lawsuit on your hands? Talk to one of our experienced attorneys about the possibility of filing suit for these and other reasons.