Wrongful Death FAQs
In general terms, a wrongful death claim refers to a cause of action that may be brought by certain family members of a decedent whose death was caused by the wrongful conduct of another. The wrongful act that resulted in death may have been intentional, reckless, or negligent. In cases where a dangerous product caused the death, it may not be necessary to show wrongful conduct in order to recover.
A surviving spouse may bring a wrongful death claim. If there is no surviving spouse, the children may bring the death claim. If there is neither a surviving spouse or surviving children, the parents of the decedent may pursue the wrongful death claim. Absent a surviving spouse, surviving children and surviving parents, another relative or individual may be appointed as administrator of the decedent’s estate to sue the case on behalf of the estate.
Yes, even if the decedent never held a job, they may have contributed in some other way to the family. A good example of such a decedent is a housewife, who contributes services, guidance and nurturing to her family. These contributions are quantifiable as “pecuniary losses” in a wrongful death action. Wrongful deaths can also be brought on behalf of children and other family members who were not employed.
Yes, in addition to the wrongful death, a decedent’s family may recover damages for the conscious pain and suffering that the decedent endured prior to death.
It depends on whether a person dies as a result of the injuries or from unrelated causes. If a person injured in an accident subsequently dies because of those injuries, that person’s heirs may recover money through a lawsuit. If a person with a personal injury claim dies from unrelated causes, the claim survives in most cases and may be brought by the executor or personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.
Normally, the following are recoverable:
- Expenses associated with the death (medical & funeral);
- Loss of victim’s anticipated earnings;
- Loss of victim’s benefits (pension, medical coverage, etc.);
- Loss of inheritance;
- Loss of advice and guidance to children;
- Loss of household services to spouse; and
- Pain and suffering of the deceased.
When someone dies, what is the difference between the civil and criminal cases that can be brought regarding the death?
A criminal case arises when the government seeks to punish an individual for an act that has been classified as a crime. A civil case, on the other hand, usually has to do with a dispute over the rights and duties that individuals and organizations legally owe to each other. The burden of proof is higher in a criminal case, and the penalty imposed is a criminal sanction, whereas, in a civil case, the defendant will typically have a monetary judgment entered against him/her. This judgment is often covered by insurance.
Many attorneys will agree to handle wrongful death cases and survival actions on a contingency fee arrangement. This means that the attorney will not charge an hourly rate for his or her services, but instead will be paid a percentage of the recovery in the event of a settlement or judgment. Attorney Scott C. Gottlieb will often pay the expenses of the case and wait to be reimbursed until the successful conclusion of the case. However, the law requires that disbursements of the case are ultimately the client’s responsibility unless the lawyer and the client agree otherwise. In a successful case, the disbursements are paid from the proceeds of the claim at the conclusion of the case.
The vast majority of all cases, including wrongful death cases, are settled prior to trial. Some cases are settled prior to the filing of a lawsuit, while others are settled during litigation or even on the “steps of the courthouse” just before trial. A wrongful death case, if litigated to trial, could last a number of years. One who pursues a wrongful death case should understand from the outset that a quick resolution cannot be guaranteed. However, a well-prepared case often settles without ever having to go to court.