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What to Know About Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful death is a touchy subject, especially when it involves your loved ones. With so much information available on this subject, getting the right answers that address your particular situation can be challenging. When faced with the death of a loved one, contacting an attorney that specializes in such cases is usually a wise move. For PI lawyers, Florida, check here.

A wrongful death claim is a civil suit brought against someone or party when death results due to negligence or any action that can be construed as intentional. Such legal claims aim to bring to account those liable for the cause of death of the said individual.

A representative of the deceased’s family or one of their relatives is usually in a position to file such a lawsuit.

When to file a wrongful death lawsuit

While different states can have slightly different criteria for a wrongful death lawsuit, the general idea is the same. Basically, any death that can be attributed to factors like negligence or failure of an individual or entity to act in a certain manner in some situations can constitute wrongful death. Of course, the legal system has the final word as to the validity and outcome of such lawsuits.

Generally speaking, the following scenarios can present good reasons for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

  • When death results due to medical malpractice: Many instances of death in the healthcare system can constitute medical malpractice. Whether it’s a doctor that failed to diagnose a condition or negligence on the part of hospital staff that results in death in a clinical practice setting, all such incidents can be sufficient for filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • When someone is killed: This is fairly straightforward. Any actions that directly result in the death of another person can constitute wrongful death. This is perhaps the most common reason for many wrongful death claims. Such claims are usually separate from the criminal charges filed by the state.
  • When an accident results in death: This category can be broad. Several types of accidents can result in death. Motor vehicle accidents are the most common in this category. Others like work-related accidents can also be part of it.

It’s important to note that most of the above scenarios start as personal injury cases that turn into wrongful death claims. However, some exceptions exist in some cases of work-related injuries, which are covered by a workers’ compensation scheme.

Proving wrongful death

As mentioned, several scenarios leading to loss of life can constitute a legal wrongful death claim. As such, it is crucial to know the critical elements involved before any such claims are considered. These include:

  • Negligence: This is probably the most common factor in most such cases. Negligence is when someone or party fails to do something, ultimately causing death. Of course, negligent actions can also result in death. However, proving this negligence is not as straightforward as people may think. Even for experienced attorneys, this can be challenging, requiring the gathering of a vast body of evidence and relying on expert testimony. A good example is when a driver runs a red light and kills a pedestrian crossing the road. In such a case, an attorney must prove several things, from the major elements like proving a driver knowingly neglected the red light to seemingly trivial details like whether the traffic light was in good working order or not.
  • Causation: Getting killed or dying due to some actions is not enough. An attorney will need to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that specific actions or individuals are directly responsible for causing death, whether through direct actions or secondary ones.
  • Breach of duty: An attorney must prove that the person or entity being blamed for any wrongful death (defendant) should have known or done something in a certain, expected way. The attorney needs to prove that failure to carry out any such actions (or overdoing them) contributed to the wrongful death. The defendant must have owed the deceased a duty of trust and competence. Death due to medical errors or negligence presents a good example of a breach of duty. This is because healthcare professionals owe their patients accurate diagnoses and competent healthcare practices.

Crucial facts to remember

While considering the above factors that may classify deaths as wrongful, keep the following things in mind.

  • You can only recover punitive damages: Sometimes, the relatives of the deceased would want to see “justice” done, meaning the accused should go to prison as part of any court verdict. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. Wrongful death is a civil case, not a criminal one. This means that the verdict merely aims to award monetary compensation. It should be noted that coming up with an exact dollar amount can be complicated. The court would have to consider several factors. The age of the deceased, for example, is critical to calculating any possible settlements. Loss of companionship, pain, suffering and lost income also come into play, although they’re difficult to quantify accurately.
  • You have a limited time to act: Unlike crimes like murder, possible cases of wrongful death tend to have a statute of limitation. This means that the aggrieved parties have a set amount of time to file a lawsuit. This period usually dates from the moment the alleged wrongful death took place. In many jurisdictions, this is usually three years from the moment of death.
  • Only the estate’s representative has a legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit in some states: This point is crucial to remember. Being a close relative or family member doesn’t give you an automatic right to file such a lawsuit. If the deceased had a will, then the executor of the will is the one to file the wrongful death lawsuit. Some states have such laws in place to avoid instances of several family members filing different wrongful death lawsuits simultaneously.

In a nutshell, talking to an experienced attorney specializing in such cases can go a long way toward determining a favorable outcome for you if you believe you’ve lost a loved one due to any factor that can be a cause for wrongful death.