Understanding “Wrongful Death”

By Tim O’Hare

There are, unfortunately, times when individuals die as a result of negligence of another person. As a result, the victim’s survivors can sue the party at fault in a wrongful death lawsuit, and they are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the negligent conduct.

Unlike a negligence lawsuit or a claim of medical malpractice, wrongful death can only be claimed when a person dies as a result of negligence. Originally the law did not offer this provision for the survivors of the deceased individual, but over the years, laws have been passed in the United States that provide compensation to the survivors for damages resulting from the death of their loved one.

There are four elements that generally must exist in a wrongful death claim.

  1. The death was caused by the conduct of the defendant.
  2. The defendant was negligent or reckless with the victim’s well-being.
  3. There are survivors of the deceased (spouse, children, beneficiaries or dependents) who are eligible to receive compensation.
  4. Monetary damages have resulted from the death.

There are two types of damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs in a wrongful death suit: compensatory and punitive damages.

Compensatory damages can be awarded to the plaintiff to cover medical and funeral expenses, loss of future income or support, and grief or loss of companionship. Punitive damages, however, are intended to punish the defendant for their negligence, and are awarded by a jury based on the defendant’s actions leading up to the death.

As with many legal claims, there is a statute of limitations of two years in wrongful death cases. If it has been more than two years since the death occurred, a wrongful death suit cannot be filed. There are also limitations regarding who is eligible to file a wrongful death suit; survivors must be a spouse, children, dependants or beneficiaries of the deceased.

As with any legal claim, wrongful death suits can be complicated. If you have experienced what you believe to be the wrongful death of a loved one as a result of medical malpractice, negligence or reckless actions by another individual, contact  The Law Offices of Tim O’Hare for a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney. Call us at 972-960-0000 or Toll-Free 888-960-0020.