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What is a Wrongful Death Claim and How Does It Work? Here’s Your Complete Guide

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When a loved one passes, their death brings with it difficult emotions and actions that have to be faced. When that passing is due to someone’s negligence or an intentional act of violence, it is even more difficult to deal with. In addition to the grieving process, you have to come to terms with other emotions, like anger at the person who caused your loss, and the red tape that comes with wrongful death.

Focusing on ensuring that the person responsible for your loved one’s passing is held accountable in a court of law is a way that many people find a bit of closure in this tragic situation. With the help of a knowledgeable attorney working with you, you can file a wrongful death claim to help you heal from your loss.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

This type of claim is a legal action taken against someone who is accused of either negligently or intentionally causing a person’s death. These are personal injury cases that arise from what amounts to the murder of someone’s loved one, and the surviving family or estate representative wants justice.

In order to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you must be either a close remaining family member or the representative of the estate. If you are, and you are within the limitations period for filing, then you can file a lawsuit on the behalf of the rest of the close family members directly affected by the victim’s passing.

These lawsuits can arise from multiple situations, but the most commonly seen are when one of the following events occur:

Medical malpractice by a physician who was either careless, negligent, or reckless in their treatment of the patient or who failed to reasonably diagnose a condition that resulted in the death of the victim.

A negligent driver in a car accident that took the life of the deceased, or negligence on the part of the manufacturer or company whose faulty parts caused the fatal collision.

An assault in which an intentional action resulted in the victim’s death. This may be anything from a heated altercation that got out of hand to a planned out murder. No matter how it happened, the result is the same: Your loved one is no longer here with you, and you want the person responsible for that to be held accountable.

Although there are other types of wrongful death claims, these are the main ones.

How Does a Wrongful Death Claim Work?

To file a wrongful death claim, you need to know a few basics. For one, each state has different rules about who can file the lawsuit in the first place. For the most part, you have to be a representative of the estate and have an entitlement to a legal claim. This entitlement varies from state to state, but in general, it includes minors whose parent was the victim and surviving spouses.

Once you file a claim through your attorney, you have the responsibility of providing the burden of proof. What this means is that your attorney works with you to create a case against the defendant in which you prove that he or she (or them, as the case may be) was directly responsible for your loved one’s death through their negligence or intentional actions.

If you are accusing someone based on negligence, part of this case means that you have to show that the victim was owed what is called a “duty of care” from the defendant. In short, this is simply saying that the defendant should have taken simple, reasonable measures to ensure the safety of other people.

You then have to show that this duty of care was breached through the defendant’s negligence. This can be something as simple as proving that the defendant was driving drunk, or as difficult as showing that a physician neglected to provide a life-saving medication. The steps to prove negligence vary depending on the case, but a skilled attorney knows what is needed to get to the final verdict and can work with you to get you there.

The final step in a wrongful death lawsuit is directly correlating the duty of care and the breach of duty to the passing of the victim. Your attorney will work with you to put together the facts and evidence of your case to show that the actions of the defendant causally resulted in the death of your loved one.

However, as cut and dried as this sounds, it can end up extensively detailed and drawn out over a period of months or years. Your attorney may end up having to investigate to gather evidence, thoroughly analyze everything involved, and then subpoena expert witnesses to testify regarding the data compiled.

Once all of the evidence is obtained and a case is made showing a direct correlation from the defendant’s actions to the victim’s death, it’s time to show that the deceased suffered damages from the negligence or intentional act. Damages vary based on the circumstances of the death, but they usually include the following:

  • Pain and suffering of the victim from the actions in question,
  • Treatment costs due to the injuries from those actions,
  • Loss of wages and income or inheritance of the victim,
  • Burial and funeral costs,
  • Loss of projected future income,
  • Loss of valuable services that the deceased would have provided, and

The valuable loss of relationships in which the deceased would have given care, companionship, and guidance to those loved ones surviving.

Not all cases will go to trial, however. You and your attorney may work out a settlement with the defendant through a mediation and negotiation process. Regardless, neither avenue is usually fast, so expect to work with your attorney over a long period of time and trust in them to know what they are doing.

The Situation is Fragile, So Handle it With Care

Your emotions are rightly high after your loved one’s passing, and the situation is sensitive. There is a lot of red tape that has to be dealt with that you may not be ready to handle or understand. This is why it is so crucial to find the right attorney to help you throughout this difficult time.

Don’t let your loved one’s wrongful death be more burdensome than it already is. Find a knowledgeable, compassionate lawyer to guide you and take over the unnecessary legalities so that you can focus on healing yourself and your family.

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