FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2011-11-14
The definition of a wrongful death lawsuit begins with the death of a person who dies due to the negligence or carelessness of another person, a company, manufacturer or entity. This type of death can be challenged in a court of law by the immediate family or a personal representative of the deceased, in order to hold the negligent party responsible for the death. Most commonly, the immediate family that files the wrongful death lawsuit with the assistance of a wrongful death attorney will be a surviving spouse, children of the deceased, parents, and in some cases grandparents or another family member directly affected by the death.
Possible Types of Wrongful Death
There are some common types of situations that can be responsible for the wrongful death of a person. They include:
- Motor vehicle accidents that are caused due to careless or reckless behavior on the roadway that results in the death of another person. This can involve car, motorcycle, bus and big rig accidents.
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents that result in death due to negligence of a motor vehicle driver. Bicycle accidents resulting in death might also be due to a manufacturer or company’s poor design or defective parts.
- Defective products can place the company or manufacturer as a negligent party when the product was poorly designed or had a defect, or there was a failure to warn of dangers associated with a product, which was directly responsible for the death of a consumer. This can be an electronic product that is defective, a motor vehicle defective part or aftermarket part or even a motorcycle with a poor design. Recalled products including medications can also be responsible for a wrongful death, and the manufacturer can be held negligent.
- Medical malpractice can be responsible for the death of a person. The death may be caused by medical practices, medical procedures by an inexperienced or untrained medical professional, inappropriate care in conjunction with other medical professionals, and other types of medical errors.
- Workplace negligence can result in a wrongful death when there is improper maintenance of equipment, hazardous conditions are present, or hazardous substances are used without proper protection and ventilation.
- Airplane and bus accidents caused by operator error, reckless behavior, or lack of proper maintenance that results in a death.
- Dog bite attacks can result in a wrongful death, and the owner can be held accountable for their animal’s actions if the canine is not properly restrained or contained.
- Criminal behavior or actions.
Wrongful death lawsuits have time constraints. The lawsuit must be filed within the legal time limit in order to be accepted by the court.
Understanding Pecuniary Loss
Punitive damages are a part of the wrongful death lawsuit when the acts were reckless, grossly negligent or intentional and have caused the death of another person. This part of the claim will consider the age of the victim; their earning capacity, if an adult; medical costs, funeral costs, and other expenses. This is a way to punish the negligent party and to avoid similar actions in the future. This is a monetary amount that the jury awards, but when it is excessive the judge presiding over the lawsuit can reduce the amount that is awarded.
Understanding Compensatory Damages
Compensatory damages are money that is awarded by the jury or a judge to repay the victim's family for the funeral, burial costs, any medical care and other expenses that were incurred as a direct result of the wrongful death. These damages will include the lost income the victim would have earned if they had lived, which can be projected for decades depending on the age of the victim at the time of their death. There can be compensation awarded for housekeeping, child care, grief and loss of companionship, along with other damages.
The Use of Experts
Experts are often used in a wrongful death lawsuit. They can be used to help prove the effect of the loss of the victim and the victim's worth to the family. This can include experts for the victim that did not work outside of the home and can be especially important for the jury. Not all jurors will have a clear understanding of what the expenses can be for loss of the housekeeping and child care provider. Expert testimony can assist the jury in determining the amount of damages that should be awarded to the survivors of the wrongful death victim.
Wrapping Up the Fundamentals of Wrongful Death Law and Getting a Personal Injury Lawyer
Understanding wrongful death law is only the first step. The fundamentals of wrongful death lawsuits basically get your foot into the courthouse door and clearly set up a road map for success for the tort victim. You [the victim] still need a veteran attorney with vast legal experience as your wrongful death attorney, when you suffer the serious loss of a loved one or a family. There are many methods of doing this. You can go online and do a search. For example, if you live in Los Angeles, you could do a search for Los Angeles wrongful death attorneys. If you live is San Francisco, you would do the same search, but use "San Francisco" as your keywords.
Your doctor may try to set you up with a lawyer at the hospital. Be very careful, as there is probably something in it for the doctor beyond just a hand shake from the lawyer. Good lawyers try to reduce hospital and doctor bills. If there isn't an arms'-length relationship, the ethics of such a deal can be called into question.
You can call a non-practicing TV or "picture on bench or bus" lawyer who could refer you to another inexperienced lawyer for a fee. Or a friend could tell you about a lawyer. The problem is that you only get one person's view. Instead, look at the user reviews online of different accident attorneys. Vet your lawyer and make sure he or she can wrap up your case and MAX your verdict or settlement. Make sure you hire a motorcycle lawyer for a death of a biker, and an airplane accident lawyer for an aviation related accident, for example.