In the U.S., someone dies from an injury every 3 minutes. Death is a part of life, but an untimely death of a loved one can be hard to cope with. Especially, if his or her death was the result of someone else’s negligence.
Did you know that as a family member or heir of someone who was killed, you have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit?
Pursuing justice for your loved one will bring you peace of mind. However, it will also bring you some much needed financial relief. Handling a loved one’s estate can be overwhelming, especially if their death was unexpected.
Keep reading to learn about what you can recover from a wrongful death lawsuit and how to prove your case.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury case. However, it is brought by the surviving relatives of a decedent who was killed by another’s negligence.
Wrongful death and survivor statutes were created in the nineteenth century. State legislatures created them so that close family members and heirs could be compensated if their loved one died because of someone’s negligence.
These statutes allow the family of victims to claim damages including pain and suffering, funeral expenses, and lost financial support. Under survival laws, if time elapses between the accident and the time of death, the family can claim the pain and suffering experienced by the decedent as well as earnings lost until his or her death.
If the decedent died immediately after the accident, they will not be entitled to lost wages. However, they can recover pain and suffering if they can prove it occurred.
Each state statute dictates what specifically can be recovered. Before the nineteenth century when these statutes were created, victims’ families and heirs had no grounds to sue for any damages.
Tort law only allowed claims to be brought by the person who was injured. If they died from their injuries, their claim died as well.
As mentioned before, wrongful death cases have a lot in common with traditional personal injury claims. For this reason, personal injury attorneys often handle wrongful death claims as well.
The main differences between the types of claims are that the claimant is the victim’s family and the types of damages sought are a little different. When it comes to proving negligence, the same elements come into play.
The first step in proving any negligence claim, including a wrongful death lawsuit, is proving a standard of care, or duty.
This means that the defendant must have owed the decedent a duty of what is called “due care.” Put more simply, the defendant was responsible for keeping the decedent safe. In addition, they were responsible for not causing them harm.
The standard for due care is usually what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.
When it comes to a wrongful death lawsuit, the judge rather than the jury will determine whether the defendant owed a duty of due care to the decedent. Here are some of the factors the judge will take into account to make this decision:
What consequences there may be for public policy if a duty of care was owed in all similar cases
- What consequences there may be for public policy if a duty of care was owed in all similar cases
- If the harm was predictable or foreseeable to the decedent
- Whether it’s certain that the harm occurred
- The relationship between the defendant’s actions and the harm
- The moral blame of the defendant
Proving Breach of Duty
The first step is proving a duty exists. If this can be proven, then the next step is proving that the defendant breached that duty.
This requires the plaintiff to present evidence that proves the defendant did something that a reasonable person would not do and that breached their duty.
At this point, the plaintiff must convince a jury rather than a judge and they must convince the jury that their version of the facts is more than 50% likely to be the truth.
The third thing the plaintiff must prove is that the defendant’s breach of duty is actually what caused harm to the decedent. At this point, things can become complex because it can be difficult to prove causation.
The plaintiff will also have to prove that the decent suffered the damages they are claiming.
Fortunately, in these types of cases, proving damages is often a given. If the plaintiff can prove a breach of duty and causation to the jury, they will reasonably presume that damages exist.
This is obvious in wrongful death cases because the decedent was killed.
This is different than with regular personal injury cases. In those cases, it is possible to prove that breach of duty and causation exist. However, you may lose your case because you didn’t suffer actual harm or couldn’t prove the damages you allege.
Contact The Attorneys at Sweet James Today
If you are interested in filing a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages resulting from the death of a loved one, you need an attorney on your side who is experienced with wrongful death cases.
It can be tricky to prove all of the elements of your case, but with the right attorney, you can recover the damages you are owed. Although an insurance company might offer you some benefits from a policy that may have applied to your loved one, if he or she died as a result of someone else’s negligence, you should consider pursuing a claim.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation.