What Qualifies as Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death lawsuit is brought against a person or organization that is accused of having caused another person’s death. This could be either through their actions, inactions, or negligence. A wrongful death claim enables the family and estate of the deceased to sue the responsible party in order to get compensation for the death of their loved one. Wrongful death laws vary from state to state, but there are certain universal factors involved in the majority of wrongful death cases. 

This article is a guide to what qualifies as wrongful death, and what families can do if their loved one has died as the result of someone else’s actions.

When Can a Wrongful Death Claim Be Made?

The easiest way to look at a wrongful death case is that it is a personal injury case where the victim died. Any situation where the person could have sued themselves had they survived is grounds for their family or estate to file a lawsuit instead. There are various situations that can result in a wrongful death claim being made. Some of the most common are:

A Murder or Intentional Killing

If a person was murdered or intentionally killed, their family can file a civil lawsuit against the responsible party. These claims are separate from any criminal charges which the defendant may be facing, and the results of the two cases are not dependent on each other. For example, they may be found innocent of murder in court, but will still be found responsible for the death in civil court and will have to pay the family of the deceased.

Medical Malpractice

If a person dies because of medical malpractice then their family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the medical practitioner and/or the hospital or medical center. It is not always easy to prove medical malpractice as doctors and other medical professionals are given some leeway under the law to make mistakes. If the levels of care were below those expected in the situation and the care led to death, however, the family of the deceased will have good grounds for a wrongful death case.

Car Accidents

Accidents involving cars and other vehicles are one of the biggest causes of preventable death across the US. In many states such as Missouri, if someone is killed in an accident, their family is able to sue the person responsible for the accident to seek restitution for their loss. One St. Louis wrongful death lawyer explained that this is an option even if that person was found not to be legally liable for the death. It is necessary for victim’s families to speak to an experienced attorney in their state to find out their rights according to the laws where they live.

How Is Wrongful Death Proven?

To successfully find the defendant responsible for causing wrongful death, the family or estate of the deceased will have to prove a similar set of facts as if it was a personal injury case. In a case where a wrongful death occurred due to negligence, for example, they would need to prove that the defendant failed in the duty of care which they owed to the deceased and that this failure was the provable and preventable cause of death.

Who Is Able to Bring a Claim?

A claim can be made by the family of a deceased victim or by a representative of the deceased’s estate. However, in different states across the country, exactly which members of the family are able to file a lawsuit, the surviving widow of a victim is able to bring a wrongful death claim across all fifty states in the US. Likewise, parents of a child who has died due to wrongful death circumstances, and minor age children of parents who have died, can all sue nationwide. In some states, however, the age of children becomes a determining factor as there are different laws state by state about the rights of adult children who have lost parents and of parents who have lost adult children. 

What Damages Can Be Awarded?

The damages which can be awarded to the plaintiffs in a wrongful death case vary according to the unique circumstances of the case. They will include some combination of the following:

  • Pain and suffering caused to the deceased before they died
  • Medical treatment costs before death
  • Funeral expenses
  • Loss of deceased’s income
  • Loss of inheritance to the deceased
  • Loss of love and companionship to the deceased’s family and loved ones

Wrongful deaths are a terrible tragedy with life being cut short due to someone else’s actions. While nothing can bring the person back or heal the wound, a wrongful death claim can help to provide some compensation for the family of the deceased. It is very important that any family which experiences the wrongful death of a family member speaks to an experienced attorney to better understand the correct course of legal action.