Wrongful death is a cause of action against individuals or entities who knowingly or negligently caused another person’s death. It can take several forms, including assault and motor vehicle accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2020 Mortality Data documented more than 200,000 unintentional injury deaths in the US.
US News reported that Amir Locke’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing an officer of violating Amir’s rights under the US Constitution. The police conducted a no-knock raid on an apartment, which resulted in Locke’s death. The family seeks to recover damages, such as compensatory, special, and punitive.
Another wrongful death case involves Katie Meyer, a Stanford soccer player who died by suicide. Her family alleged that the university and several administrators caused Meyer’s acute stress, leading to her suicide. The lawsuit alleged that Meyer received a formal notice of impending disciplinary action because she spilled coffee on another athlete. He had allegedly sexually assaulted her teammate.
Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer for the death of a loved one due to someone’s negligence or wrongful act. They can help you receive compensation for burial costs, grief, and other expenses in a wrongful death claim.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death
The causes of wrongful death include intentional killing, motor vehicle accidents, occupational accidents, product liability, and medical malpractice. Moreover, the possible liable parties significantly depend on the circumstances leading to the death. For instance, doctors, surgeons, and hospitals are usually responsible for medical malpractice cases.
An intentional tort is when someone deliberately acts in a way that would harm another person. The decedent’s family may file a wrongful death lawsuit when death results from such an act. However, a wrongful death suit is a civil one, different from a criminal one.
The state files a criminal case, and a conviction may result in prison time or fines. On the other hand, a surviving spouse may file a lawsuit for an intentional killing to receive compensation for damages.
Moreover, a civil case requires a lower burden of proof, which is the preponderance of the evidence. Under this standard, the plaintiff must convince the court that the defendant is more likely responsible for the death of a person. But in a criminal case, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Hazing is a form of intentional tort that has resulted in death. In 2021, a 19-year-old college student, Adam Oakes, died during a hazing incident. The Delta Chi fraternity members forced him to drink an entire bottle of whiskey. When he died, he had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .419 percent. In February 2023, his family filed a wrongful death case against the Delta Chi fraternity and others for $28 million.
Another example of a wrongful death suit involves the 22-year-old travel blogger Gabby Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie. In late August, Petito went missing, and authorities found her body in September. The autopsy revealed she died from strangulation.
Search crews found Laundrie’s remains in October. Petito’s mother filed a lawsuit against Laundrie’s estate for the intentional killing of Petito during their road trip. The mother seeks at least $30,000 for funeral expenses, loss of care, and loss of companionship.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) 2020 Fatality Facts reported more than 38,000 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents. It amounts to 11.7 deaths per 100,000 individuals, which probably means road crashes contribute to wrongful deaths.
Driving under the influence (DUI) is one of the causes of fatal accidents. In 2020, more than 11,600 people died due to drunk driving. Impaired driving can lead to a slow reaction time, poor coordination, and loss of balance.
For instance, a 16-year-old passenger died at the scene because a 25-year-old driver was speeding and driving while intoxicated. California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers stated the driver failed to control the truck during a curve, causing the vehicle to flip several times.
Another cause of traffic-related accidents is distracted driving. The 2020 Traffic Safety Facts revealed that over 3,000 people died from distracted driving. This dangerous behavior includes adjusting mirrors, making a phone call, and daydreaming while operating a vehicle.
In 2022, a 74-year-old man died after a car accident in Rochester Hills. According to the investigation, a Jeep Grand Cherokee did not stop at a red light. It hit a Honda Accord where the 74-year-old man was a passenger. The officials said the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s driver possibly used her cell phone while driving.
Some drivers also go beyond the speed limit, causing fatal accidents. For instance, one person died at the scene after an 18-wheeler hit their vehicle in Fulshear, Texas. According to the witness, the 18-wheeler ran the red light, resulting in the crash.
If a driver violated traffic rules and it caused a fatality, the victim’s family can file a wrongful death claim. This negligent act gives rise to a cause of action, allowing the family to demand compensation.
Work-related diseases and accidents
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 National Census revealed more than 5,100 fatal work injuries in the US. Over 700 workers died from exposure to harmful substances, while 1,032 drivers or sales workers died due to transportation accidents. Moreover, construction jobs led to 951 fatalities.
The AP News reported the death of a Texas man working as a contractor at an Alabama steel mill. The authorities said a forklift struck him. Another deadly instance involved a 59-year-old employee of a tree company. He was cutting a tree, but his chainsaw got stuck. Unfortunately, when the man freed his chainsaw, a part of the tree hit his torso.
When an employee dies due to a work-related illness or accident, the family members can receive worker’s compensation benefits. In California, the death benefits include burial expenses not exceeding $1,000.
The amount of benefits also depends on the number of dependents. For example, the state provides $250,000 for a deceased person with one dependent, but it gives $290,000 for those with two or more total dependents.
However, if a third party caused the death of a loved one, you may file a wrongful death action. For example, you can sue a negligent subcontractor that caused the death of a family member. Remember, you need a wrongful death lawyer to establish liability and demand compensation.
In tort law, the product liability doctrine provides plaintiffs with a cause of action for a defective consumer item. It has several categories, such as manufacturing defects, design flaws, inadequate warning of risks, and breach of warranty.
This legal action can fall under strict liability or negligence. In strict liability claims, the plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer must prove the item was defective before the defendant sold it. They must also prove the defect caused the plaintiff’s death or injury.
But in a civil lawsuit based on negligence, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant breached a legal duty, causing injury or death. The lawyer must prove the violation of duty directly caused the victim’s death.
Due to manufacturing defects, some companies recall their products. In 2022, Ford recalled 350,000 vehicles because of engine fire risk. The company received almost 30 reports of fires occurring even with a turned-off engine. It also recalled 310,000 trucks due to airbag issues. According to the company, the airbag may not inflate in an accident.
Likewise, Volkswagen recalled 246,000 vehicles due to problems with airbags, windows, and brakes. Unfortunately, the airbags may deploy later than designed. If it happens, the car’s occupants may suffer fatal injuries.
Hence, a driver may file a wrongful death lawsuit due to defective cars. An example involves a driver operating a vehicle with faulty brakes. If a fatal accident happens due to brake failure, they can sue the auto manufacturer for damages.
Medical malpractice happens when a healthcare professional or hospital fails to perform its legal duty, leading to the patient’s death or injuries. In a wrongful death suit based on medical malpractice, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- Defendant’s professional duty to the patient
- Breach of the said obligation
- Plaintiff’s death or injury
- Resulting damages
In February 2021, Brayden Smith, a five-time champion on “Jeopardy!” died due to alleged surgical malpractice. The 24-year-old underwent abdominal surgery in a Las Vegas-area hospital, but he collapsed three weeks later and later died of blood clots.
The decedent’s family filed a lawsuit, alleging that the doctors and nurses did not give Smith anticoagulants after surgery. The complaint stated that the medical professionals at the hospital failed to meet the standards of care, resulting in Smith’s death. The family seeks more than $15,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The essential factors in a wrongful death lawsuit include the statute of limitations, possible plaintiffs, settlement process, and recoverable damages.
Statute of limitations and possible plaintiffs
A personal injury attorney can help you keep track of the time limit to file your wrongful death lawsuit. Moreover, they know who has legal standing, referring to the capacity of a person or entity to bring suit before the court. Each state has varying wrongful death statutes.
For example, Section 6-5-410 of the Alabama Code requires the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate to file the case within two years. On the other hand, Section 16-62-102 of the Arkansas Code allows the decedent’s estate or heirs to file a claim within three years.
Unlike Alabama and Arkansas, Colorado provides legal standing for the immediate family. Section 13-21-201 of the Colorado Revised Statutes states that the surviving spouse, heirs, designated beneficiaries, and parents can initiate a wrongful death case. These individuals must file the case within two years, or four years for hit-and-run accidents.
In Louisiana, the decedent’s family members only have one year to file the case. Article 2315.2 of the Louisiana Civil Code provides legal standing to the surviving spouse, parents, siblings, and grandparents.
Mississippi has somewhat stringent limitations. It only allows plaintiffs one year to file a wrongful death suit and only for deaths due to intentional acts. Under Section 11-7-13 of the Mississippi Code, the personal representative, surviving spouse, parents, children, and siblings have legal standing to bring a wrongful death claim.
Wrongful death settlement
Most parties in a wrongful death suit end up in a settlement. A judge or private mediator may preside over a settlement conference. Before the start of the conference, the mediator may require each party to submit briefs. These will contain the case summary and evidence of their claims.
The mediation process may also depend on the mediator. For example, the judge or mediator may meet with all the parties and their lawyers. But in some cases, the mediator may meet with each party privately.
Once the parties reach an agreement, the lawyers or mediator will write a final document that the parties will sign. The case will go to trial if the wrongful death settlement is unsuccessful.
The possible damages in a wrongful death claim include economic, non-economic, and punitive. Economic damages are compensation for monetary losses, such as funeral expenses and medical bills. The surviving family members, especially the minor children, may also receive financial support.
On the other hand, non-economic damages compensate for non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship. The court may occasionally award punitive damages to deter reckless or intentional behaviors that may lead to a person’s death.
In awarding compensation, the court or jury considers the decedent’s age, life expectancy, relationships, and income. State laws also affect the family or estate’s recovery of damages. For instance, the comparative negligence doctrine reduces the amount of compensation based on the decedent’s degree of negligence.On the other hand, the contributory negligence principle bars recovery for damages if the decedent was at fault to some degree. A wrongful death lawyer can help you receive the maximum compensation for a loved one’s death.
Did you know?
Unintentional injuries led to the death of more people aged one to 44 in the US in 2019 than any other cause. A significant percentage also fell victim to homicide, particularly those aged 10 to 24 at 15.1 percent.
Find a Wrongful Death Lawyer
Visit The Personal Injury Center if someone you loved died due to negligence or intentional acts. These include intentional killing, road accidents, work-related incidents, product liability, and medical malpractice. We can match you with an experienced wrongful death lawyer who can help you recover fair compensation. Book a free consultation today!
Do you want to file a wrongful death suit? Book a free evaluation with The Personal Injury Center to discuss your case.
FAQs on Wrongful Death Lawsuit
How do you choose a wrongful death attorney?
You must consider a wrongful death attorney’s track record, fee, and attitude toward your case. They must have successfully handled wrongful death cases in the past. Moreover, you must ensure you can afford their fees. An alternative is to enter into a contingency fee arrangement. Your attorney should also show understanding and sympathy for your experience.
Are court awards taxable?
Section 1.104-1 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations states that any compensation for personal injuries is not subject to income tax. These include workers compensation, court awards (excluding punitive damages), and settlements.
How much does a wrongful death attorney take?
On a contingency fee basis, wrongful death lawyers may take about 33 percent of the total compensation amount. Outside of this arrangement, attorneys may charge on an hourly basis.