What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death lawsuit is filed when someone dies due to the intentional or unintentional negligent act of another party. This is the remedy afforded by the Civil Justice System as laid out in the Seventh Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, trial by jury. The claim is brought against the defendant that has caused the death. This allows the estate or a person close to the victim to file a civil lawsuit against the other party.
Wrongful death claims can be filed when:
- A Victim is Killed Intentionally: If a defendant was intentionally responsible for the death of a victim through a bad act, for eg., a murder or a blow in a fight or altercation that resulted in death, then a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed on behalf of the family members or surviving spouse of the deceased in a personal injury suit or civil action. The defendant may also face a criminal indictment for murder, and face possible future jail or prison time.
- A Victim is Killed Unintentionally: If a defendant was unintentionally responsible for the death of a victim, for eg., while driving a motor vehicle that resulted in the killing of another automobile driver, passenger or pedestrian in a negligent act, then a wrongful death claim is valid and can be filed as a personal injury suit or civil action on behalf of the family members or surviving spouse of the person who died. The defendant may also face a criminal indictment, and possible future imprisonment depending on the circumstances surrounding the event.
- A Victim Dies of Medical Malpractice: If a doctor is negligent either by failing to properly diagnose a life-threatening medical condition or is careless during a medical treatment, either surgical or non-surgical, and the patient dies, then a wrongful death claim can be filed in a civil lawsuit.
- A Car Accident Fatality Occurs: When a victim dies as the result of a negligent operation of a motor vehicle that caused the death of a driver, passenger or pedestrian who was killed in the car crash or vehicle collision, intentional or not, then a claim can be brought on behalf of the family members or close relations of the deceased. Seeking immediate legal advice from a personal injury lawyer who is a member in good standing with your local state bar, should be the path taken.
How to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Generally a personal representative of the estate of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim in a civil lawsuit. This is done on behalf of those that generally had a familial relationship with the victim. Who these survivors are can vary from state to state they can include surviving spouses, parents of minors, minor sons or daughters of parents, etc.
The main disagreement among states is who can file a claim in a personal injury lawsuit in certain circumstances. For example, not all states are unanimous on whether adult children of their deceased parents can sue and file a civil lawsuit.
Generally, the more distant a familial relationship is, the harder it is to file a wrongful death civil action; each case needs to be examined by a qualified personal injury attorney that is experienced in handling these types of lawsuits. However, some states allow non-married, romantic or same sex partners to file a claim. Hence, anyone who can show financial dependence on the deceased victim can file a claim in certain states.
Evidence Needed to File a Wrongful Death Claim
In order to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit there are a few key pieces of proof you must have before being able to submit a civil action on behalf of a deceased loved one.
- Proof of Death: Any document that is legally binding that certifies a death occurred, like a police report and death certificate, etc., or a report from an investigator that the death was due to the negligent action of another person.
- Evidence of Negligence: If you have evidence in the form of witness testimony, video footage, cell phone texting data or some other device on how the wrongful death incident occurred proving the responsibility of a negligent individual, company, corporation or any third party involved in the incident, then you can make a claim in a civil court case.
- Proof of Losses Suffered by Surviving Family Members: If the deceased was the only breadwinner of their household, then family members can submit claims that they have suffered economic losses. Some of these are lost wages, loss of companionship, funeral expenses among others. Proof of any other losses can also be submitted as a result of the death.
- Evidence of a Doctor-Patient Relationship: Documentation is required in the filing of a civil case of medical malpractice. For a medical injury claim to have the possibility to be deemed valid, then the estate of the deceased needs to establish that there was a doctor and patient relationship for any medical malpractice claim to be brought in a civil lawsuit against a doctor or health care provider.
Average Settlement of Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit can sometimes result in settlements often worth hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars, depending on the economic damages.
This can vary widely, depending on who the victim was, the cause of the wrongful death, and the technicalities surrounding the unfortunate event.
“Wrongful death suits can recover the expenses associated with the wrongful death itself, in addition to any loss of salary, benefits, pain and suffering, care and guidance, and other factors that will increase the burden on the family already suffering a grave loss. Since all wrongful death suits differ greatly, we can help you determine what compensation each family member can seek based on the relationship between the wrongful death victim and the individual survivor.” Says New York City Wrongful Death Lawyer Glenn Herman” 
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