Losing a loved one is an unfortunate thing to experience. The hurt becomes even more profound when you know their death resulted from someone else’s negligence or an act of violence. You can’t help but think your loved one would still be alive had they taken different measures or been more careful. Wrongful death lawsuits exist to help the deceased’s family seek justice for their loved one and make the perpetrator pay for their crimes. Keep reading this article to learn more about wrongful deaths and how to file a lawsuit.
Definition of terms
The Plaintiff is the person filing a civil lawsuit or bringing the case to court. Most of the time, the plaintiff is a close relative who stands on behalf of the rest of the family or the deceased’s heirs. On the other hand, the defendant is an entity or person against whom the lawsuit is filed. According to the case, the defendant acted wrongfully, leading to the death of the Plaintiff’s loved one. A will is a legal document that takes effect after a person dies. This indicates how the deceased wished to distribute their property and how their dependents should be taken care of. If the deceased had written a will before their demise, the court would appoint a personal representative of the state or an executor to read it to the family.
Elements of a wrongful death
Unfortunately, not every death you report can qualify as wrongful death. Here are some criteria your case must meet before you qualify for a wrongful death claim.
Duty of care
First and foremost, the Plaintiff should demonstrate to the court that the Defendant had a duty to care for the deceased. For example, if the deceased died in a car crash, the Plaintiff could argue the Defendant had a duty of care to be careful while driving on the road.
Breach of duty
Once the Plaintiff can prove duty of care, they must demonstrate that the Defendant violated this duty, thus causing the deceased’s death. For instance, had Defendant been more careful and followed the road rules, the deceased would still be alive.
In the case of a car accident, it is not sufficient for the Plaintiff to show that the Defendant’s breach of duty resulted in wrongful death. For example, the Defendant’s decision to run a red light caused wrongful death and not a failure of the brakes.
Lastly, the Plaintiff should demonstrate that the death of their loved one or family member led to various damages such as,
- Loss of income
- Medical expenses
- Emotional and psychological suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Burial costs.
Causes of a wrongful death
Remember that each of the causes of wrongful deaths listed below must fulfill the essential elements explained above to qualify for a civil case. With that said, let’s look into the various causes of wrongful deaths.
- Accidents at the workplace
- Injuries at birth
- Defective products
- Automobile accidents
- Neglect or abuse at facilities for the elderly
- Violent criminal activity
- Occupational hazards and exposure
The burden of proof
Even as you strive to ensure your case fulfills the essential elements of wrongful death, it would help to remember that a civil case is lower than a criminal one. Therefore, you need to go a step further to prove the Defendant is guilty of your loved one’s death without a shred of doubt. The burden of proof stipulates that you provide evidence that convinces the jury and the fact finder that your claim is more than 50% true and is likely to have happened the way you say it did. However, if you fail to meet the burden of proof, you will not receive compensation for damages. We highly suggest you find a wrongful death attorney to help you develop a substantial burden of proof and fight for your rights.
Settlements for a wrongful death
After you win the wrongful death lawsuit, the Defendant’s insurance company will send a check to your lawyer, who will deduct their fee. Depending on your agreement, the lawyer will then pay you the remaining cash. Fortunately, the money will go to the Plaintiffs, not the deceased’s estate. Another perk of getting a wrongful death settlement is that the state will not require you to pay taxes.
It would help to confirm the state laws regarding who can file a lawsuit for wrongful death. Some states will only allow close family such as the spouse, parents, and children, to file for wrongful death. Other states will refuse a claim unless it comes from the persons who received direct financial support from the deceased.