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Wrongful Death Lawsuit (What It Is And How It Works: Overview)

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How does a wrongful death civil lawsuit work?

What are the essential elements you should know!

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What Is A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit, sometimes called an unlawful death lawsuit, is a type of lawsuit brought forth by the family or estate of a person who has died as a result of the negligent conduct of another, negligent wrongdoing, or intentional conduct.

In other words, with a wrongful death lawsuit, the family of the victim (or its estate) legally pursues the individuals and companies responsible for the death of the victim.

Typically, for the representatives of the deceased to be able to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased should have had a valid personal injury claim against the wrongdoers if he or she would have been alive.

The main objective of a lawsuit for wrongful death is to get financial compensation for the damages caused to the victim and as a result of the death of the victim.

Burden of Proof

What should the plaintiff prove in a “wrongful death lawsuit”?

Essentially, the deceased victim’s family will have the same burden of proof as the victim would have if he or she would have been alive to prove the negligence of another (tort).

The elements of a negligence claim are as follows:

  • The defendant owed the victim duty of care 
  • The defendant breached its duty of care towards the deceased 
  • The breach of duty directly caused the death of the deceased or proximate cause of the death
  • The death caused damages to the plaintiff 

Wrongful Death Damages

In wrongful death lawsuit cases, the plaintiff’s objective is to seek compensatory damages to compensate the losses and damages suffered as a result of the death of the victim.

Here are some of the common damages that can be claimed in a wrongful death action:

  • Damages to the victim’s car and property
  • Medical bills 
  • Medical treatment expenses 
  • Funeral expenses 
  • Loss of expected income
  • Loss of care, guidance, and nurturing to the family 
  • Loss of companionship 
  • Pre-death pain and suffering damages 
  • Mental anguish and anxiety 
  • Loss of consortium 

For example, if a person dies in a truck accident where the truck driver was negligent, then the family of the deceased can file a “wrongful death” lawsuit to seek damages for all the injuries suffered such as the deceased’s medical expenses, out-of-pocket, along with general damages

Statute of Limitations

How long do you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

It’s important that you consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to get accurate legal advice on the timeline you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in favor of a deceased individual.

This article is of general and informative nature and is only intended to give you an overall understanding of the notion.

With that said, the statute of limitations refers to the legal timeline the plaintiff has to file a claim against the at-fault parties.

Every state will have statute of limitations laws specifically defining the legal timelines to file claims and lawsuits failure of which the action will be time-barred (even though perfectly valid).

When Can A Civil Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Filed

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed when a person suffering personal injuries caused by the intentional act of another or their negligence dies.

What’s important is that the succession or estate of the victim must demonstrate that:

  • The victim would have had a valid personal injury claim against the at-fault parties if he or she were to be alive
  • The victim has passed away as a result of the personal injuries suffered
  • The family, estate, or success legally represents the interest of the deceased 

If the victim of personal injury is alive, then a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be filed.

A victim of personal injury in his or her lifetime must initiate a civil lawsuit by filing a personal injury lawsuit.

However, if the victim dies in the course of the civil proceedings, then the action can be converted into a wrongful death claim.

Alternatively, if the lawsuit is only filed after the victim passes away, it will be filed directly as a wrongful death claim.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The legal representative of the deceased victim will be legally empowered to file a wrongful death action against the individual (or parties) that caused the death of the victim.

The legal representative’s action is intended to seek financial compensation for the benefit of the surviving beneficiaries of the deceased.

Those who may be authorized to file a claim for wrongful death may be:

  • The executor of the deceased’s estate
  • The surviving spouse
  • The victim’s dependants 
  • The victim’s family members 
  • A person suffering damages as a result of the victim’s death
  • The victim’s parents 

Every state will have laws qualifying the plaintiff’s legal interest in filing a lawsuit for wrongful death.

Steps In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit 

What are the steps to win a wrongful death lawsuit in court?

In reality, every case is different and so the legal strategy to win a case may differ depending on the facts of the case, the applicable laws, and the quality of the evidence.

In general, for a person to win a wrongful death lawsuit, here are the steps to take.

Step 1: Gather Your Evidence

The first step is to gather all the evidence relating to the cause of the accident or event leading to the death of the victim.

The evidence includes things like:

  • Police reports
  • Medical reports
  • Diagnosis 
  • Witness statements 
  • Video recordings
  • Pictures 
  • Audio recordings 

What’s crucial is that your evidence will need to be able to support the all elements that you need to prove to show that the defendant was negligent, was reckless, or intentionally caused the harm leading to the death of the victim. 

Step 2: Contact A Wrongful Death Lawsuit Attorney

Once you have gathered all the evidence that you were able to collect, the next important step is to contact or speak with a good attorney dealing with wrongful death matters.

The laws vary from one state to another and it’s important to get a preliminary assessment of your case so you know:

  • Do you have a valid wrongful death claim?
  • Do you have the legal interest to pursue the claim?
  • How much is your claim worth?
  • Are you able to prove the legal elements in court?
  • Who is liable for the wrongful death?
  • By when should you file a lawsuit?

Overall, your attorney can provide you with the proper legal guidance and representation to set up your case to maximize the settlement or compensation.

Step 3: File Your Claim or Civil Lawsuit

Once all the preliminary assessment is done and all the right evidence is gathered, the next step is to actually file a wrongful death claim.

Filing the lawsuit requires that you target the individuals and companies who should be held responsible for the damages and you serve a complaint and summons to them.

Once the defendants are served with a claim, the legal proceedings in court will formally begin.

In some cases, you can speak with your attorney to see if there’s a possibility of getting compensation through other channels like through an insurance company or other types of benefits.

Step 4: Go Through Discoveries

One of the most important steps in a lawsuit is the discovery process.

During this process, the parties get to depose the others or witnesses to collect factual information about the claim, gather documents, and obtain further details and clarifications.

Following the discovery process, every party to the lawsuit will readjust its legal strategy to ensure they remain on the right path to win.

In most cases, you may need the help and experience of a trial lawyer to be able to ask the right questions and depose witnesses or experts. 

It’s possible for someone without experience to handle it but it may not be ideal considering the complexity and technical nature of the discovery process.

Step 5: Negotiate An Out-of-Court Settlement

During the legal proceedings, it’s always possible for the litigants to maintain open communication to settle the matter or try to achieve a negotiated settlement.

Statistics show that the large majority of cases never proceed to trial and are settled before the trial on merits.

If there’s a possibility for the case to be settled and for you to obtain a fair settlement or compensation, that may be a good and sure way to get something instead of having to rely on the judgment of the court (which may be uncertain).

Step 6: Go To Trial

If the case cannot be settled, the final step is to proceed to trial.

In the United States, many lawsuits are presented before a jury who will eventually render a verdict.

If you are able to present your case in a compelling way, present all the proper evidence to support your claim, and convince the court that you need to get compensated, then you may eventually get a favorable jury verdict.

In certain states, the plaintiff can get full compensation for all financial and non-financial damages whereas other states may limit the cap on damages.

It’s important to speak to an attorney before filing your lawsuit to evaluate the total compensation that you may be able to get so there are no surprises.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Examples

What are some examples of wrongful death lawsuits so we can better illustrate the concept?

There are many instances when a person may suffer fatal injuries or die following an accident caused by the misconduct of another.

Car Accident

The most common example is a wrongful death lawsuit car accident where the family of a car driver or passenger files a lawsuit against a negligent driver or third party for the victim’s death.

For instance, imagine that a negligent driver causes a fatal car accident due to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In that case, the representatives of the deceased may file a car accident wrongful death lawsuit to get compensation for the damages caused to the deceased and deceased’s family.

Medical Malpractice

Another example where a person can be sued in the context of a wrongful death suit is for the medical malpractice of a doctor or healthcare professional.

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit against a doctor should be considered when the doctor or medical professional made a medical mistake or failed to observe proper medical standards resulting in the death of the patient.

For example, the doctor did not perform the right surgery or made a mistake in the patient’s treatment leading to the death of the individual.

Commission of Crime

There are also instances when a person commits a crime and can be held legally accountable before the criminal courts and civil courts for the crime.

In the criminal court, the person will serve time or pay a fine for the crime.

The criminal proceedings are filed by the state against the defendant where the objective is to protect society from crimes and criminals. 

The criminal defendant can also be sued in a civil court for damages caused to the victim and victim’s family due to the defendant’s intentional act causing the death of the victim.

Lawsuit For Wrongful Death Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

What is wrongful death lawsuit?

How to file a wrongful death lawsuit?

In summary, a “wrongful death” lawsuit is a type of claim that can be filed against those legally liable for the death of another person.

In the United States, every state will have laws and statutes governing wrongful death lawsuits and claims so it’s important to know what laws apply so you know exactly what to do.

A wrongful suit can be filed for many reasons, such as:

  • Car accident
  • Truck accident
  • Motorcycle accident
  • Pedestrian accident
  • Boating accident 
  • Construction accident
  • Mesothelioma exposure 
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals 
  • Medical malpractice 
  • Defective products 
  • Catastrophic accidents 
  • Workplace accident 

And more…

A wrongful death action is similar to a personal injury lawsuit based on the negligence of the defendant with the main difference that the victim of the personal injury has suffered fatal injuries.

Many defendants or parties could be held liable in an action for wrongful death, such as:

  • A driver of a motor vehicle 
  • The manufacturer of a product 
  • The designer of a product 
  • The government for faulty roads 
  • A defective product distributor 
  • A maintenance company 
  • Owner of premises 

The best course of action is to get a legal consultation from a qualified wrongful death lawsuit lawyer handling such death matters so you know if you have a valid claim, who can be held liable, for how much, what must be proved, and by when you must file your lawsuit.

I hope this article helped you better understand the wrongful death lawsuit definition, how to file a wrongful death claim, who can make a claim, and how it works.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Overview

  • When a person dies as a result of the wrongdoing, misconduct, or negligence of another, the surviving family members or the executor of the estate may sue the responsible person for wrongful death
  • The objective of this type of lawsuit is to seek compensation for the damages caused to the victim prior to his or her death along with the damages caused to the surviving family members, spouse, dependents, or others 
  • To win a wrongful death legal action, the plaintiff will need to prove the same elements of negligence that the deceased victim would have had to prove if still alive
  • Damages for wrongful death may include things like medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, loss of services and support, lost prospect of inheritance, loss of future earnings, and more 
Comparative negligence 
Compensatory damages
Contributory negligence
Criminal negligence 
Insurance claims
Medical malpractice lawsuit
Negligence definition 
Negligence lawsuit 
Negligence per se
Personal injury lawyer
Preponderance of evidence 
Product liability 
Punitive damages
Standard of proof 
Survival claim 
Willful negligence 
Wrongful death attorney 
Wrongful death lawsuit settlement 
Wrongful death meaning
Wrongful death statute of limitations
Absolute liability 
Attorney vs lawyer 
Boutique law firm 
Car accident claim
Case evaluation 
Construction accident claim
Contingency fee agreement
Duty of care
Elements of negligence 
General practice attorney 
Gross negligence 
Insurance claims
Letter of engagement 
Liability cap 
Medical malpractice 
Personal injury defense
Personal injury lawyer 
Premises liability 
Product liability attorney
Retainer agreement 
Social security disability 
Tort reform 
Workers compensation claim

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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