Wrongful Death Overview

By Lia Kopin-Green
/
August 1, 2022

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed when someone dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity. Intentional killing, car malfunctions, and medical malpractice are all common instances that may serve as grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit.

This useful guide includes everything you should know if you are interested in filing a wrongful death claim.

Types of Wrongful Death Cases

A wrongful death claim is brought against a defendant who causes someone's death either by negligence or by intent. Moreover, A wrongful death claim may arise when the defendant's wrongful actions lead to the death of a victim who otherwise would have had a valid personal injury claim. You may encounter this in the following situations:

  1. Medical Malpractice - A medical malpractice wrongful death suit may arise when a patient dies due to inadequate medical treatment and negligence by a medical professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or hospital. For instance, a doctor may be sued for wrongful death if he or she fails to diagnose and treat a preventable condition that caused the patient's death.
  2. Intentional Killing - Wrongful death claims may apply in the event that a one person intentionally kills another person. For example, in cases where a defendant murders a victim, the defendant will likely be charged with criminal charges for murder. However, the defendant may also be faced with a wrongful death claim, which is a civil matter.
  3. Car Accidents - If someone dies as a result of someone’s negligent behavior behind the wheel, a wrongful death claim may apply. A few examples of negligence while driving include reckless driving, driving while intoxicated and not obeying traffic lights or signs.
  4. Nursing Home Abuse - It is possible to file wrongful death claims against long-term care facilities that have shown neglect or abuse. Death due to dehydration, malnutrition, lack of fall prevention, assault and improper treatment of medical conditions could all serve as grounds for a wrongful death claim.

Plaintiffs in a Wrongful Death Case

The victim's estate, usually the closest surviving relative, usually a spouse, child, or parent, will typically file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased plaintiff. However, state laws often dictate who is legally allowed to file wrongful death suits on behalf of another party. Some states may allow more distant relatives, such as siblings or grandparents, to claim wrongful death. Domestic or life partners as well as anyone who was financially dependent on the victim may also have a right to file a claim. 

Some states limit a parent’s ability to receive financial or emotional compensation if a fetus dies before birth. These states may only allow wrongful death claims if the baby passed away after it was born. It is highly advised to consult an experienced attorney to help you navigate the wrongful death regulations in your state.

Defendants in a Wrongful Death Case

Various individuals, companies, and even government agencies can be sued for wrongful death. It is possible, for instance, to file a wrongful death suit against the following defendants:

  1. The doctor whose treatment fell below the standard of care, which resulted in death
  2. The builder of a damaged roadway that led to a death from a car accident
  3. A drunk driver who killed another person
  4. A nursing home that has acted negligently and is responsible for the death of a patient
  5. A person who has intentionally killed another person

Wrongful Death Lawsuit for Medical Malpractice

According to Johns Hopkins University, medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Wrongful death in medical malpractice occurs when the medical provider fails to act in accordance with the accepted standard of care. The standard of care is determined by analyzing what another medical professional in the same specialty would have done in a similar situation.

In the event that a loved one passes away due to medical malpractice, you may be unsure whether you should sue the hospital or the doctor themselves. It is best to seek the advice of your attorney regarding who to sue in these instances. Upon establishing liability, your attorney will help you pursue compensation for the victim’s death. 

Wrongful Death Damages

Following a successful wrongful death lawsuit, you may be entitled to a number of different damages. Survivors may receive compensation for funeral and burial costs, medical treatment costs incurred due to injury prior to the victim’s death, loss of the deceased person’s future income, and loss of any inheritance that occurred as a result of the victim’s death. Another common compensation for wrongful death is known as a “survival claim.” In a survival claim, the deceased's estate is compensated for the victim’s pain and suffering from the moment of the injury until the time of death. The focus of survival claims tends to be on the suffering the victim endured while still alive instead of the financial and emotional consequences of the death. Essentially, survival claims are simply personal injury lawsuits filed on behalf of a deceased loved one.

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