When a loved one dies in a preventable accident, you may have the right to file what's known as a "wrongful death" claim. Unlike criminal cases involving a death, a wrongful death action is pursued through civil court, much like any personal injury claim.
However, wrongful death claims are unique in many ways. Here are the basics you should know about this type of claim before you start.
Who can file a wrongful death claim?
Wrongful death actions essentially allege that an accident victim's survivors are injured by the victim's death. They are deprived of such various things as the victim's financial support, emotional support, and companionship. Each state has specific laws that limit who can make that kind of claim.
While it varies from state to state, the people who are most likely to file a wrongful death claim include:
- The victim's surviving spouse
- The victim's children, whether they're minor dependents or adults
- The victim's parents
- Other close relatives who depended on the victim for support
- The victim's estate, usually through the executor or trustee of that estate
Sometimes a wrongful death claim is pursued individually, while other times the plaintiffs will work together and file a claim.
What kinds of damages are possible in wrongful death claims?
"Damages" are the money paid to a plaintiff for his or her losses. In a wrongful death claim, a victim's survivor may assert a claim for things like:
- The lost lifetime earnings or wages the deceased could have been expected to earn if he or she hadn't prematurely died
- Loss of consortium or companionship caused by the death of a spouse
- Loss of parental guidance and financial support toward a minor child or a young adult
- Loss of the deceased's love, companionship, and support by their surviving parents
- The expenses associated with the deceased funeral services and burial or cremation
- The emotional pain and suffering inflicted on survivors by the victim's absence
- The emotional pain and suffering caused by the victim's death (particularly when the death was painful or protracted)
Once the claim is settled, any damages awarded may be paid to the estate as a whole and then distributed either according to the deceased's will or state inheritance laws.
What should you do if you think your loved one's death was wrongful?
Understanding your rights in a case like this can be difficult. Because every situation is somewhat unique, the wise thing to do is to find a lawyer who provides wrongful death attorney services right away.