A wrongful death lawsuit is typically brought against an individual or individuals who have caused the death of another person due to negligence or willful action. In these matters, a claim is usually filed by the estate of the deceased or close friends or loved ones against an individual or individuals who are legally responsible for the death.
Filing this type of claim can come with different requirements depending on the laws on the books regarding wrongful death suits and determining legal responsibility on the part of the defendant comes with some challenges.
Wrongful Death Claims
A claim may be filed for an incident in which the deceased was killed as a result of a wrongful action on the part of the defendant in the case. There are a number of examples where this may occur:
If the defendant intended to kill the deceased, he or she may be subject to a wrongful death suit. This legal matter is often brought against the defendant separately from any criminal case that may be brought to court to decide whether the individual is guilty or not in the death. These suits are typically a civil matter.
A doctor who misdiagnoses or fails to properly diagnose a patient or the doctor shows reckless disregard in the treatment regimen of the patient and that person dies as a result of these actions could be subject to a wrongful death lawsuit. The case could be brought against that medical professional and possibly even the medical facility where the deceased was treated and/or passed away.
If the driver of an automobile operates that motor vehicle in a negligent fashion, resulting in the death of another person, the driver could be subject to a wrongful death suit.
Wrongful death suits will typically originate as personal injury cases, with the exception of a death that occurs as a result of injuries sustained at the workplace. In those situations, a wrongful death case is usually dealt with through a worker’s compensation claim.
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
For a defendant to be found liable in any wrongful death claim, the plaintiff on behalf of the deceased is bound to meet an identical burden of proof that the victim would have been required to meet if he or she were not deceased and filing a personal injury claim against the defendant of their own accord.
Therefore, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a legal responsibility to maintain a level of care that was not met and this breach in care directly resulted in the death of the victim. Furthermore, the plaintiff must prove that the death of the victim was the direct cause of the damage that the plaintiff is seeking in the case.
Real Parties in Interest
Those individuals who may bring a wrongful death claim against a defendant on behalf of the deceased and those who have sustained damages as a result of their death can vary depending on their relationship to the victim. While one representative is typically the individual who files the suit, he or she may work on behalf of multiple parties.
The individuals who are allowed to sue for wrongful death and seek damages are called real parties in interest. Those who may qualify to be considered as part of the plaintiff can vary based on the wrongful death statutes of each state. The individuals who might sue as real parties in interest are as follows:
The wrongful death laws in every state deem immediate family members eligible to sue for wrongful death damages. These family members include spouses, children both natural and adopted, and parents of unmarried children. In some states, distant family members such as a brother, sister, or grandparent may sue a defendant for damages.
Domestic and Life Partners
The laws vary from state to state but a domestic or life partner of the deceased may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against a defendant they believe is liable.
Financial Dependents and Putative Spouses
Individuals who were financially dependent on the deceased and putative spouses may also bring a claim against a defendant in the wrongful death of the decedent. These individuals need not be related to the deceased by blood or through marriage. A putative spouse is any person who had reason to believe he or she was married to the decedent, so this would count under the law. But many states vary on this one, so check the laws governing wrongful death suits in the region where you reside.
Death of Fetus
Depending on the state in which you live, a wrongful death suit can be brought by the parents for the death of a fetus and damages pursued for the loss. But there are restrictions that pertain to your ability to file such a claim and you should discuss the matter with a good attorney well versed in wrongful death law to find out if you are eligible.
Defendants in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
There are very few limitations as to who can be found liable and sued in a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of claim may be filed against individuals, public and private corporations, employees, even some government agencies and contractors.
In fact, one wrongful death incident could result in a multitude of people being named as defendants in a claim. Depending on the conditions that led to the death of a victim, one incident could pinpoint an assortment of potentially liable parties.
Defendants Given Immunity from Lawsuits
This is where things can get complicated and somewhat confusing. There are certain government agencies and their personnel who may not be named in a wrongful death suit. Having immunity from litigation in this type of matter is not something many people are able to enjoy, except for those agencies and their employees who are protected under federal law.
Recent changes and additions to the wrongful death laws now offer immunity to individuals involved in specific product liability claims for medical devices as well as to those individuals who are involved in railroad collisions. In addition, the manufacturers of generic drugs are also given immunity from wrongful death suits where the drug in question presents some level of danger to the public if the FDA has previously approved the name brand version of that same drug along with the labeling on the bottle.