By Logan Quirk
Losing a loved one under any circumstances has a devastating impact on your life. When your loss occurs due to a wrongful death, it is even more difficult to cope with. It happens unexpectedly, often to a victim who should have many years of life left. Realizing that someone else’s actions or inactions caused the death only adds to the devastation.
A wrongful death is when someone dies because of the negligence or intentional acts of another person or entity. When a person suffers injuries due to the actions or inactions of another person, they often file a personal injury claim to obtain compensation. When those injuries are severe enough to cause death, their spouse or other survivors can file a wrongful death claim.
Laws differ among the states regarding who can file a wrongful death claim. One exception is that the surviving spouse can file in any state. Another is that parents can file a claim due to the wrongful death of a child. Minors can also collect compensation when one or both parents are the victims of a wrongful death. The claim may represent multiple survivors with relationships to the victim. Extended family members and distinctions between minor and adult children depend on the laws of the state. Usually, the more distant the relationship, the more difficult it is to collect damages.
Types of Wrongful Death
Just as there are numerous types of personal injuries, wrongful deaths arise from numerous situations. Causes range from improperly maintained property to work accidents, car accidents, medical malpractice, and even murder. The burden of proof is the same as it would be if the victim had lived. The plaintiff who brings legal action against the defendant must prove that they acted negligently or that they intentionally caused the victim deadly harm.
Wrongful Death Caused by Negligence
If the death occurred due to negligence, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, that the duty was breached, and that the breach led to the victim’s death. Some examples of wrongful death caused by negligence include:
– Vehicle Accidents
Vehicle accidents are, by far, the most common cause of personal injuries and of wrongful deaths. The large number of drivers on the roads and the potential impact of a mistake makes drivers vulnerable to one another’s negligence. When the injured victim lives, the at-fault driver must pay for their medical costs, time lost from work, and other damages. When the injuries result in death, the victim’s loved ones can file a wrongful death claim with the at-fault driver.
We tend to think of fatalities from car wrecks as terrible accidents. But there is almost always a reason that a crash occurs. If a driver breaks the law by speeding, veering out of their lane, or driving under the influence, their actions cause the crash and the resulting wrongful death. If a vehicle malfunctions, the carmaker might be to blame. Even wrecks involving driverless cars are someone’s fault. The fact is that if every driver obeyed all the laws and paid attention all the time, crashes would be few and far between.
– Product Malfunction
Any product that doesn’t perform as expected or doesn’t provide adequate warnings or instructions has the potential to malfunction. Vehicles can cause a wrongful death when safety features malfunction. Fireworks can explode when they aren’t made correctly. Any product that contains dangerous chemicals or working parts, or that is faulty by design, might cause severe injuries that lead to death.
– Medical Malpractice
Most of us set medical professionals to the highest standard of care. When they fall short, they are guilty of medical malpractice. When their negligence in care leads to the death of a loved one, you can file a wrongful death claim against them. In some cases, you can also file a claim against the facility.
Medical malpractice happens in a number of ways. A doctor might misdiagnose a condition, preventing the victim from getting life-saving treatment. They may miss a medical condition altogether or provide inaccurate care. Other examples include surgeons leaving items inside patients, failing to follow sterilization practices, or failing to observe allergies listed on a patient’s chart.
– Nursing Home Patient Neglect
Making the decision to put a loved one into a nursing home is one of the most difficult ones that many people make. Often, it’s due to the adult child’s inability to provide the extent of care an aging parent needs. When nursing homes fail to provide for the individual’s needs, the neglect can result in death.
– Fatal Dog Bites/Attacks
More than two hundred dog bite fatalities occur in this country each year. Dog owners who fail to restrain their dogs, especially those of certain breeds and dogs with previous bites, are liable for the attacks.
– Slip & Fall Accidents
Slip & fall accidents often lead to head injuries, fractures, and spinal cord injuries. Commercial property owners have the responsibility of keeping their property safe, both indoors and outdoors.
Wrongful Death Caused by an Intentional Act
When the death is intentional, the wrongful death suit will usually follow a criminal trial. Any time a person intentionally injures another, it is a criminal act. It is possible to win a wrongful death suit even when the person isn’t convicted of a criminal act.
Famous Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Sometimes it’s easier to understand how a lawsuit plays out when you read about real-life cases in the news. Celebrities are prone to injury and wrongful death just like the rest of us. You might have heard about some of these cases before without realizing the type of lawsuits involved.
The country was riveted by the violent murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. We watched as OJ Simpson stood trial for the murder. We still quote famous lines from the trial, such as “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Perhaps the most amazing part of the entire fiasco was when the jury did, in fact, acquit.
As is often the case, the civil suit followed. When the families of the victims filed wrongful death claims against Simpson, they won a total award of $33.5 million in damages. The judgment was renewed later, raising the amount of the reward to $58 million. Most of that amount remains unpaid. Family members stated that while they will never stop trying to make Simpson pay, it was never about the money. The most important thing to them was making OJ Simpson accountable for their family members’ murders.
Pop Princess and star of TV’s Moesha, Brandy, made the news when her Land Rover struck Awatef Aboudihaj’s car in 2006. The woman died in the crash. Brandy paid more than $300,000 to each of the woman’s two sons as a settlement in the wrongful death suit. The boys, aged 15 and 11, were in the woman’s vehicle when Brandy’s vehicle struck it.
Three other lawsuits were filed in the case, including one by the woman’s husband, another by her parents, and a third victim with injuries from the accident. It’s important to note that the $50 million lawsuit by Aboudihaj’s parents is not permitted according to California’s wrongful death law.
In 2006, TV host Nancy Grace grilled guest, Melinda Duckett, over the disappearance of Duckett’s 2-year-old son on her show. Following the show, Duckett fatally shot herself, leading to a wrongful death lawsuit. Grace settled the suit out of court with an agreement to establish a $200,000 trust to help find the missing boy.
When comparing these cases, it’s easy to see how unique and complicated wrongful death cases can be. They show a variety of scenarios that include both negligence and intent. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the amounts paid by these defendants are limited to celebrity cases. A personal injury lawyer will determine the types of damages to pursue and the amount you are entitled to for your case.
Wrongful Death Damages
Wrongful death cases differ and so do the damages that apply. Your personal injury attorney might advise you to add any of the following types of damages to your claim depending on the circumstances:
– Pre-death pain and suffering (survival claim) – All wrongful deaths don’t occur immediately after the injury. Sometimes victims undergo medical treatment and surgery. Others develop secondary conditions, such as infections, resulting in their eventual death.
– Medical costs – Even if the victim died hours after the accident that led to their death, there may be medical costs that resulted.
– Funeral & burial costs – These costs often put an additional burden on family members that aren’t prepared for their loved one’s death.
– Loss of income – If the victim was a co-contributor or provider to the household, the family members can receive compensation for that loss.
– Loss of care & nurturing – These damages are for the affection and nurturing the deceased would have provided to his/her family if they had lived.
– Loss of Consortium – The definition of consortium according to Merriam-Webster is “the legal right of one spouse to the company, affection, and assistance of and to sexual relations with the other.” People often think this term only applies to sexual relations. But it also includes the loss of emotional support, affection, companionship, and solace. The definition can even extend to tasks that the victim performed that the remaining spouse is now responsible for. Children can also file for loss of consortium when they lose a parent whether they are minors or adults. The law typically excludes stepchildren and siblings.
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
As the plaintiff in a wrongful death case, you must prove that the victim was owed a duty of due care. This means that the victim had a reasonable expectation that the other person would keep them safe from harm. You must also prove that the duty was breached and that the defendant’s actions led to the situation that killed the victim.
Not only do you have the burden of proof that a duty existed and was breached; you must also prove that you suffered damages. You need to have proof that the damages you have listed are legitimate. That’s one reason that you need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you with every step of your case.
When to Get a Personal Injury Attorney
In the initial weeks following your loss, getting an attorney might be the last thing on your mind. But if there’s a possibility that the death was another person’s fault, you need to act quickly. Every state has a statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit. The sooner you talk with a personal injury attorney, the sooner you’ll get answers about your loved one’s death.
Wrongful death cases make up a significant portion of the cases a personal injury attorney handles. They know the laws in the state and what it takes to prove a wrongful death case. Remember, real accidents don’t happen very often. If your loved one wasn’t at fault, then the other party probably was.
It may take weeks before you begin to feel the financial impact of your loss. Medical bills, burial expenses, and regular monthly bills start to add up quickly. You’ve already lost someone important in your life. Don’t you deserve the compensation you need to relieve the financial burden?
Starting your claim could be less stressful than trying to deal with the impact of your loved one on your own. Even if it isn’t about the money, you might need justice for your loss so you can move forward. Nothing is more important than choosing an experienced lawyer to help you with your fight. Get the legal representation you can count on to fight for you.
Contact Quirk Law Group to discuss your wrongful death case today. We understand what you’re going through. You can count on our legal professionals to put you at ease right away. We are fierce advocates for our clients who are victims of personal injury and wrongful death.