The period following the death of a loved one is always a challenging time. When a loved one dies to another person’s negligence, emotional and practical repercussions can become even more stressful. Close relatives left behind to mourn may want to seek damages by filing a wrongful death claim. They can read on to find the answers to 10 frequently asked questions about this difficult subject.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
In most states, wrongful death claims can only be filed by court-appointed representatives of the deceased person’s estate. They are typically filed for the benefit of the deceased person’s spouse, children, or other relatives. It is often the case that the court appoints a personal representative who will be a beneficiary of the claim. This personal representative can visit Lawboss.com to learn more about what to expect.
What Is Considered a Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death is any death that was caused by negligence, carelessness, unskillfulness, breach of duty, or a wrongful act. To receive compensation, those filing the claim must prove that the death could reasonably have been prevented by the defendant and that the victim’s death created quantifiable damages. The exact circumstances that define a wrongful death vary based on the duty of the defendant to the deceased victim and the ability to prove causation, meaning that the defendant’s breach of duty directly contributed to the victim’s death.
What Damages Are Recoverable?
Every state allows for the recovery of economic losses, but precise state laws vary. In most cases, damages cover, at a minimum, funeral and burial expenses and loss of financial support. Some states also allow beneficiaries to be compensated for the loss of prospective inheritance or even the total lifetime earning capacity of the deceased person. Non-economic damages such as pain and suffering may also be recoverable.
What If the Deceased Had No Income?
Even if the deceased victim never held a job, it may still be possible to recover damages. The person likely contributed to his or her family in other ways, including services, guidance, or nurturing of the family. These kinds of contributions are usually quantified as non-pecuniary losses. The fact that damages can be recovered for non-pecuniary losses means that parents can file a wrongful death claim following the death of a child, although the damages awarded for this class of decedent are usually more modest.
Is There a Time Limit for Filing a Claim?
All states impose time limits for filing wrongful death suits. The reason there is a time limit is that evidence tends to degrade over time. Many factors help determine how much time family members have to file a claim, so it’s best to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Does Filing a Claim Require Going to Court?
There’s always a chance that a wrongful death claim will need to be settled in court, but most are settled without a trial. Court trials tend to be both long and costly, so most attorneys are willing to negotiate outside of court. That being said, there is always a possibility that the claim will go to trial so it’s important for representatives of the estate to find an attorney with trial experience.
Are Recovered Damages Taxable?
In most cases, the majority of damages recovered for a wrongful death cannot be taxed. This is not always the case, though. Beneficiaries should consult an attorney or tax accountant regarding their specific cases.
How Much Does Hiring an Attorney Cost?
In most cases, the initial consultation with a wrongful death attorney will be free. Each attorney’s fee schedule is a little different, but most personal injury and wrongful death attorneys take pay in the form of a predetermined percentage of the recovered damages. This is known as a contingent fee arrangement, meaning that the attorney’s pay is contingent on his or her ability to recover damages for the client.
How Much Compensation Will Beneficiaries Receive?
The amount of damages awarded following a successful wrongful death claim will vary based on the specifics of the case. They will likely include compensation for costs and expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Other factors often come into play when determining damages, as well. These include the victim’s age and life expectancy, his or her general health, and the deceased’s expected future income.
It is possible to file wrongful death claims following almost any death that occurred due to negligence or a wrongful act. However, filing a claim on behalf of the estate of an elderly grandmother will likely lead to modest compensation in comparison to a claim filed on behalf of a younger person who contributed more income to his or her surviving family. The best way to find out what to expect in terms of damages is to consult an attorney.
Is There a Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Wrongful Death Case?
There is a difference between civil and criminal wrongful death cases. In a criminal case, the state brings charges and punish the defendant, if he or she is found guilty. In a civil case, the court-appointed representative of the deceased person’s estate files a claim in civil court. No prison time or fines will be levied by the state, but the responsible party or parties may be held liable for paying damages to the surviving family members. Civil cases also have more lenient burdens of proof than criminal cases.
The Bottom Line
Every wrongful death case is different, and each jurisdiction has different regulations regarding who can file a claim, who can be a beneficiary, who can be held liable for the death, and what damages can be awarded. The best way for surviving family members to get answers to questions about their specific cases is to speak with a wrongful death attorney. Consultations are usually free and time is of the essence, so surviving family members should not put off getting in touch with a law office that can help. Dealing with the death of a loved one is difficult enough without having to worry about whether the person responsible will be held accountable.