Wrongful Death: The Most Serious of All Personal Injury Claims
Wrongful death claims are very common in the court system and are among the most strongly defended. Many times wrongful death claims are valid, but the question of negligence is still very important. The potential legal application of comparative fault is the reason why wrongful death claims are still commonly evaluated within the court system, as the victim could have had a significant degree of comparative fault in the occurrence leading to the death. It is important for the family of the victim to understand that wrongful death claims are still subject to the same comparative negligence applications as personal injury claims, and insurance companies are always interested in reducing the value of any claim. And, with respect to the value of a claim, wrongful death claims regularly result in very large settlements or punitive damage awards when gross negligence can be proven in a trial by an experienced wrongful death attorney.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
The current spouse of any victim of wrongful death is automatically given standing to the file the suit on behalf of the decedent’s estate. In some cases, the parents or children of the victim can also be assigned standing when they are the next of kin and there is no spouse. This can be a complicated determination in some situations and can be contested by others who feel they should actually have been given standing. In addition, the estate of the decedent is the actual entity filing the suit with the trustee or family representative being given the authority to begin the process. Attorneys can be estate trustees as well, and it always takes an experienced and effective wrongful death attorney to ensure the claim is properly evaluated for maximum settlement or award potential.
What Can Be Claimed as Compensatory Damages?
All of the typical pecuniary damages recovered in a standard personal injury claim are available in a wrongful death action. Those are normally compensatory claims of physical property damage, medical and transportation expense bills, and loss of income due to the accident. Loss of income can also be calculated for the entire future working career of the victim, which could alone amount to a considerable sum in a wrongful death filing. Non-economic compensatory damages for pain-and-suffering can also apply up until the time of death following the accident. Extenuating claims from wrongful death can also apply, such as the value of a human life and denial of future inheritance in some cases. The potential for loss of consortium claims by the children, parents, or a spouse are commonly present as well. However, loss of consortium claims can also further complicate a wrongful death issue, and often they result in separate legal cases because different family members may only be entitled to limited settlements.
Comparative Fault and Wrongful Death Claim Value
Comparative negligence doctrine is used to adjudicate all accidents in every state, so the value of a claim depends on the comparative fault percentage of the victim in causing the accident. Just as in standard personal injury cases, negligence level must still be established on the part of all actors. This is very important in wrongful death claims resulting from an auto accident, as all drivers in any accident will have their claim value reduced by their personal fault percentage in pure comparative fault states. Claims in states that use modified comparative fault are significantly different. Drivers with a rating higher than 51% will be denied any recovery damages. States that use pure contributory negligence will result in a claim denial for even 1% of comparative fault by the injured plaintiff, including in wrongful death claims.
It is vital to retain a wrongful death attorney to handle any claim because they are always intensely evaluated by respondent insurance companies. You always need a legal professional negotiating your case for full value because the insurance companies will do the same in potential claim reduction or denial.