4-15. Wrongful Death
What is Wrongful Death Law? This is a subcategory of Personal Injury Law, and therefore requires a showing of negligence or an intentional wrong-doing by the accused party. Unlike other personal injury claims however, wrongful death claims are meant to recover damages for specific family members and/or heirs of the deceased, rather than for the “injured” party. Medical malpractice claims may frequently involve wrongful death actions as well.
These types of civil actions claim that another party or entity is liable (legally responsible) for the death of another individual, due to his wrongful conduct, actions or failure to act in a certain manner, and this caused the death. Only certain parties can file these claims. This usually only includes immediate family who were dependents of the deceased party, such as spouses, minor children and sometimes parents. Additionally, the relative filing the claim must have suffered monetary damages as a result of the victim’s death.
Although the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased party may file the claim, generally any damages awarded may not be considered an asset of the estate. Instead the money is meant to be used solely for the benefit of his/her legal beneficiaries, and cannot be attached to pay the debts of the estate.
Wrongful death law is governed by the State statutes. The purpose of the statutes is to financially provide for the spouse and children of the deceased and to act as a deterrent to others for reckless behavior. The statutes are created at the state level and usually identify who may bring suit and establish how much they may recover in damages. Limitations on the amount of damages one may recover in a wrongful death suit do not exist in all states.
Compensatory damages are the most common awards in for these claims, such as loss of income, loss of prospect of inheritance, medical and funeral expenses, as well as the personal loss of the family member. Only some states allow punitive damage awards, and this is usually only in the case where the death was the result of serious or malicious actions. It is advisable to consult with a Personal Injury attorney experienced in wrongful death suits to determine if you are eligible to file a wrongful death suit, and if your state allows for punitive damages.
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