Unfortunately, accidental or avoidable deaths make up a huge percentage of our global annual death total. For example, it is estimated that 1.25 million people die in road accidents each year.
In many such cases, the blame can be attributed to an involved party. If a member of your family has died in such an incident, you might be entitled to take a wrongful death lawsuit.
Read on as we outline what you can expect during a wrongful death lawsuit.
Am I in a Position to Sue for Wrongful Death?
First things first. Before considering a wrongful death lawsuit, you must ensure that you’re in a position to do so.
In order to limit the number of speculative cases brought before the courts, legal systems require applicants to have a substantial connection to the issue they want to claim. This is known as the doctrine of legal standing.
Generally, the requirement is that applicants must have suffered some real harm. In wrongful death cases, this means that you must be the heir of a deceased person, or their personal representative, in order to file a claim.
“Heir” in this context refers to whoever would receive a deceased person’s estate where they did not leave a valid will. This will be a surviving spouse, children, or parents.
The personal representative is the person in charge of distributing the assets of a deceased person.
Who Can Be Sued?
Obviously, most cases will be taken against the person who caused the victim’s death. However, it is possible to make a case against other parties in certain circumstances.
Where the person at fault is also deceased by the time of the lawsuit, an applicant can bring a case against their estate.
Where the death occurred in the course of the wrongdoer’s employment, a case may be brought against their employer.
As with any other legal process, wrongful death lawsuits can rack up considerable expenses.
The structure and extent of these costs will be based on a number of factors. For instance, some lawyers will not charge an up-front fee for wrongful death claims. Others may agree not to charge a fee unless the claim is successful (this is known as a contingency fee).
Relevant circumstances in all cases include:
- How long the case takes to complete
- The extent of research required
- The value of any settlement
If the costs involved are impossible for you to manage, it might be worth considering wrongful death pre-settlement funding.
The damages awarded in wrongful death suits vary widely. However, substantial settlements are possible, with awards of well over $5,000,000 not uncommon.
Damages arise under a number of headings. Some of the most common are:
- Medical expenses incurred by the deceased before death
- Pain, suffering, or disfigurement suffered by a deceased person prior to death
- Wages lost by the deceased before death
- Funeral and burial costs
How Are Damages Calculated?
Putting a monetary value on human life is not an easy task. However, there are certain factors a court will always take into consideration when deciding on damages for wrongful death.
The age and state of health of the deceased person is a major factor. The death of a young, healthy person will usually result in greater damages than for someone who is old or sick. This is because the extent and quality of life lost is much greater in the case of the former.
Income and earning capacity are also taken into account. A wealthy or high-earning deceased person leaves behind greater financial need than someone without many resources. Therefore, their family will be entitled to more damages.
The age and situation in life of the children and spouse of the deceased are also relevant. If a surviving spouse is unemployed or low-skilled and has several young children, they will attract higher damages.
Can I Recover Damages for Pain & Suffering?
The rules on damages for pain and suffering vary from state to state.
Many states will limit the amount of damages that can be awarded for pain and suffering. This is because the monetary significance of such harm is highly subjective, and sympathetic juries might award excessive damages in some cases if there was no cap.
It should be noted that some states do not impose these caps. New York is one notable example.
While the pain and suffering of the deceased person can form the basis of damages in many cases, the pain and suffering of those bereaved is not as easy to claim. This is because this kind of harm is seen as too remote to give rise to damages.
Time Limit for Filing a Claim
Again, this will vary from state to state.
The rules that govern these time limits are known as the statute of limitations legislation. Generally, statutes of limitation will be either one year or two years, but they can be longer.
Make sure to act reasonably quickly when filing for wrongful death. Also, consult with your lawyer about the statute of limitations in your state.
Going Into a Wrongful Death Lawsuit with Your Eyes Open
Undertaking a wrongful death lawsuit won’t be an easy process. Losing a loved one is incredibly difficult, and the emotional implications of revisiting that experience in a courtroom setting can push people to their limits.
However, if the loss of your family member was someone else’s fault, there’s no reason you shouldn’t seek compensation. A successful wrongful death lawsuit allows you the peace of knowing that justice has been done, as well as financial relief.
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