A wrongful death occurs when a person dies due to negligence, carelessness, or the intentional actions of another.
Until the nineteenth century, the law did not offer any respite to loved ones of a person who died an untimely death due to the actions of another. This was because the claim or tort could only be brought on by the injured person and the claim died when the plaintiff died. This made it impossible for family or heirs to claim compensation. But soon, state legislatures created wrongful death statutes that allowed heirs to claim for financial loss, damages, and suffering brought about by the death of their loved one.
If you have lost a loved one due to carelessness of another person or entity, you have every right to file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death claim. The monetary compensation will not bring your dear one back, but it will alleviate your woes considerably and help ease the financial stress and burden on you.
To prove a wrongful death claim, it is necessary to establish the existence of elements of a wrongful death suit. Knowing about them will help you act better and improve your chances of winning the case.
(1) You Must Be Eligible to Make a Claim
Wrongful death claims stand only when there is a death of a person due to alleged misconduct, negligence, or intentional actions of another person or entity. Wrongful death claims can be brought on only by surviving family members or heirs who were financially dependent on the deceased.
Spouses, children, adopted children, and parents of unmarried victims can make a wrongful death claim. Life partners or financial dependents who were supported by the decedent can make a claim to compensate their loss. Usually, domestic partners can rightfully sue, though the conditions vary from state to state.
Distant relatives including grandparents and siblings also can act as plaintiffs in a wrongful death claim, but it is necessary for them to prove that the death of their loved one caused them financial hardships and loss.
Parents of a deceased fetus can also sue for wrongful death by medical negligence or other causes. In some states the law requires that the fetus must be born alive and then died due to negligence, whereas in other states parents can make a claim regardless of whether the fetus was born alive or not.
(2) Proof of Negligence
Wrongful death claims are valid only if the plaintiff can prove that there was negligence, misconduct, or intent to cause harm on the part of the defendant.
Negligence occurs when the erring party does not exercise reasonable care that is expected from a similar person under similar circumstances. For example, a pedestrian would expect a car driver to drive with reasonable care and not cause him or her harm. It is also normal to expect drivers on a busy highway to stick to speed limits and drive carefully. When accidental deaths are caused due to negligence like texting and driving, jumping lights or speeding, the heirs of the victim can bring about a wrongful death claim against the defendant in the case.
In some cases, the defendant acts with intent to cause harm like stabbing or shooting the victim, causing grievous injuries and a painful death.
Misconduct on the part of the defendant – such as not adhering to safety rules at work site and unintentionally putting co-workers’ lives at risk, or causing a workplace mishap and causing the death of your loved one – are all valid grounds on which you can sue for wrongful death.
(3) Proof of Breach of Duty of Due Care
When a person is negligent, careless, or intentionally harmful, he or she has breached the duty of reasonable care owed to the victim.
When a doctor makes a mistake in treatment, a speeding car takes a wrong turn, or when a supervisor overlooks a dangerous flaw in equipment at the worksite, the erring persons have breached the duty of care owed to the victim to act with reasonable care to avoid harm.
If the plaintiff can prove that the his or her version of facts is more than 50 percent likely to be true, chances of a favorable verdict increase considerably.
(4) Proof of Causation and Damages
The mere existence of negligence and breach of duty do not support a wrongful death claim. There should be a strong causal link between negligence and death of the victim.
The supervisor’s oversight of an equipment flaw should have caused the mishap, which led to the death of the victim. If the victim was seriously injured as a result of the mishap but died due to a pre-existing health condition or because of injuries sustained due to not wearing personal safety gear, then the defendant cannot be held liable for wrongful death. You must have strong proof to show that if there were no negligence on the part of the defendant, the untimely death of the victim would not have happened.
Another pre-condition to win a wrongful death claim is that there should be proof of financial loss suffered due to the death. Financial hardships suffered include quantifiable damages like hospitalization and treatment expenses, funeral expenses, loss of income and potential earnings, and loss of companionship and guidance. Pain and suffering can also be compensated in your claim.
Proving damages and causation require knowledge of the law and legal expertise. Ensure you consult a reputed lawyer and get proper guidance.
A successful wrongful death claim helps bring the surviving family members’ lives back on track. Though the emotional loss cannot be compensated for, a fair claim will help you live your life without further suffering and trauma.