Recovering wrongful death damages following the loss of a loved one due to carelessness or wrongdoing can be an overwhelming task that many are not educated on. Not only do the laws and procedures vary from state to state, but determining the loss both monetarily and non-monetarily can be a complicated matter. It is imperative in these cases to seek the professional guidance of an attorney specializing in such lawsuits.
This type of civil action claim is carried out within common law jurisdictions in order to hold the person(s) liable for the death of an individual. While the deceased cannot file a lawsuit, immediate family members and other real parties of interest are able to do so. In some states this includes life partners, distant family members, and others impacted financially. A case may be against an individual, company, group of employees, and government agencies. Although, federal law has given immunity to defendants in some lawsuits involving drug manufacturers, railroad collisions, and select product liability cases. This case genre typically comes after a criminal case concludes and utilizes comparable evidence and a decreased standard of proof. As in the 1994 O.J. Simpson trial, a defendant can be found liable for wrongful death damages despite not being found guilty during the criminal suit. Commonly the death itself is the result of an automobile or plane accident, medical malpractice, exposure to hazardous work conditions, or criminal actions.
To facilitate such a case, certain factors must be in place. These factors include the death of a person due to another’s carelessness or intent to harm, the survival of family members or others that are impacted financially by the loss, and the assignment of a personal representative of the deceased’s estate. Each state has its own statute of limitations concerning the timeframe in which to address such a case. The most common law states that a lawsuit must be filed within two years following the date of the negligent behavior resulting in death. While the time constraints can vary by location, there are specific guidelines for minors and those with mental disabilities. Typically, the time clock doesn’t begin its countdown until there is detection of harm. The statute of limitations can be as short as one year, but the deadline may be capped, especially in cases regarding product liability, legal malpractice, and construction.
In many states, there is a limit to the type and recoverable amount of wrongful death damages allowable in such lawsuits. Financial, also referred to as pecuniary, non-economical, and punitive losses are all determined in the final ruling. Pecuniary losses include the loss of support, potential inheritance, benefits, and the medical and funeral costs incurred as a result of a fatality. In determining this figure, the considerations are the health condition, earning capacity, age, and circumstances of the victim at the time of their death. Calculating these elements can be rather difficult; therefore expert testimony, qualified evidence, and the utilization of a life expectancy table provide the most accurate amounts. In addition, some jurisdictions allow survivors to recover legal expenses and interest on the awarded amount through to the time of actual collection. Non-financial awards are those that may not easily have a dollar value associated with them, yet may have more of an impact on survivors than the more tangible losses. This includes such aspects as pain and suffering, loss of love, guidance, training, and protection from the victim, and loss of partnership by a deceased spouse. While not available in all states, punitive damages may also be collected in order to reprimand those at fault and discourage others from repeating such actions.
Due to the wide variation in procedure and recoverable losses from state to state, it is important to work closely with a knowledgeable attorney experienced in this form of civil action. An expert in such casework will be able to establish liability and navigate their clients through the murky legal process in order to maximize the compensation they receive.