Many people may have confusion over what a wrongful death lawsuit entails. It is a civil action that holds a certain party responsible for the death of someone else, whether through intentional misconduct or unintentional negligence.
Circumstances in Which a Wrongful Death Action May Be Appropriate
A wrongful death action can be taken against a person who is also the defendant in a criminal prosecution. However, many wrongful death actions take place in the absence of any criminal charges.
Many times, an accidental death occurs in the absence of any criminal intent because of the thoughtlessness or incompetence of someone who should know better. Apart from criminal behavior, the following are circumstances under which surviving loved ones may have grounds to bring a wrongful death suit:
- Exposure to hazardous substances or conditions as part of one’s occupation
- An accident involving an airplane or automobile
- Medical malpractice by a health care provider
Elements of a Successful Wrongful Death Action
When a person dies, a personal representative may be appointed to speak for the decedent’s estate. It is the responsibility of this personal representative to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of surviving family members in circumstances when it is appropriate.
The success of a wrongful death lawsuit depends on the plaintiff’s ability to prove that, whether through willful intent or negligence, another party caused the death of a person and that surviving family members are suffering monetary injury as a result.
People Eligible To Bring a Wrongful Death Action
A wrongful death action isn’t available to just anyone. Eligible parties must be real persons of interest, meaning that they suffer measurable damage because of the death of the decedent. Different states designate different individuals as real persons of interest. However, spouses, immediate family members, and financial dependents qualify almost universally.
Two types of damages may be available from a wrongful death action. Punitive damages are only available in certain states and are intended to punish the responsible party for malicious wrongdoing. Pecuniary damages are available in every state and are intended to compensate those negatively impacted by a death. They can include medical and funeral expenses, loss of support or services, and lost prospect of inheritance. Intangible damages, such as pain and suffering or loss of consortium, may also be available.
The death of a loved one is difficult enough; the prospect of a wrongful death action may be overwhelming. One of our attorneys may be able to guide you during this difficult time.