A wrongful death lawsuit can be one of the most challenging and complex cases a lawyer has to oversee. This legal precept states that, following a fatality caused by negligence, family members and dependents of the victim may seek restitution from the responsible party. This negligence can take any form, from a drunk driver causing a fatal accident, to a doctor misdiagnosing a patient’s cancer. In general, there is a statute of limitations concerning these cases, so surviving dependents (known as “real parties in interest”) should act quickly.
While this precept of law may seem like an old legal construct, it wasn’t actually allowed by state and federal courts until the last century. A wrongful death lawsuit wasn’t covered under common law before then, which often had terrible consequences on families suddenly deprived of a primary breadwinner. Now, any person or agency can be held responsible if they cause a fatality while acting negligently or intentionally. This includes companies and governmental institutions, though there are some exceptions when attempting to hold a governmental agency responsible.
Every state treats a wrongful death lawsuit differently, including who is allowed to file for damages. In all states, though, immediate family members (including adopted children) of the victim may seek compensation. Many states also permit more distant relatives, like a brother or grandparent, to file for restitution. Life partners and anyone dependent on the victim may also be able to file for damages. Finally, a few states allow people to seek compensation if they suffer financially from the fatality, even if they aren’t related.
This form of law is extremely complicated, and figuring out who is responsible can be difficult. For instance, if a driver kills another person in an accident, there may be several parties who are culpable. The driver may be responsible if they were impaired at the time of the accident. If the driver was under the influence of alcohol, the place that served the alcohol could be responsible. If the vehicle suffered a mechanical failure, the manufacturer of the vehicle or part fabricator may be culpable. If the wreck was a result of poor signage, the local government may be acting in negligence. A wrongful death lawsuit normally requires close attention to several areas to ensure the responsible party is discovered.
The real parties of interest can file a wrongful death lawsuit with the help of a lawyer. The legal professional normally organizes this part of the process to ensure that the correct defendants are named. In most cases, there is a statute of limitations of two years associated with these cases. However, minors may file for compensation as soon as they become adults and this two-year period doesn’t usually start until the negligence is discovered.
Once the defendants are named, the attorney and his client will determine damages and attempt to reach a settlement. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case may move to the discovery phase, where the lawyer and his client will provide information to the court surrounding the circumstances of the death.
The sudden loss of a family member or life partner is extremely difficult, even more so if the death is caused by a party acting negligently. Seeking compensation for this loss can help a family transition back to normalcy.