Using A Wrongful Death Lawsuit to Achieve Justice (2024)

Sarah Edwards

Contributor

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.

Editor

Read in 4 mins

Under English common law, the source of American law, a person’s legal claims died with them. In other words, English courts would not accept legal claims against someone for killing a victim.

This created an anomaly where a party could be liable for an incapacitating injury resulting in coma, paralysis, or permanent brain damage. But the party had no liability if the person died.

American law remedied this problem by creating the wrongful death lawsuit. Depending on the state, either the surviving family members or the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death case against any person or business legally liable for the death. This lawsuit results in damages that may cover both the victim’s and family’s losses.

What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The grounds for a wrongful death lawsuit arise when a victim dies due to the negligent or wrongful acts of another. Wrongful death claims typically exist when the victim would have had grounds to file a lawsuit if they had survived. Thus, the basis for wrongful death can include anything from murder to toxic chemical exposure.

However, not every state allows the recovery of the victim’s damages in a wrongful death suit. Instead, they often limit the damages for wrongful death to the family’s or estate’s losses. For example, wrongful death damages might include:

  • Out-of-pocket expenses not paid by the estate, like ambulance fees
  • Loss of the victim’s services, such as childcare or home maintenance
  • Financial losses due to the death, including the victim’s lost income
  • Loss of benefits, like health insurance
  • Lost inheritance

Depending on the state, wrongful death damages might also include the family’s non-economic losses, including:

  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of mentorship and guidance
  • Loss of companionship
  • Grief

The compensation from a wrongful death claim usually gets distributed to the spouse and children of the victim. The compensation may go to the victim’s parents when they have no spouse or children. The estate will receive the wrongful death settlement or damage award if there are no immediate living relatives.

Survival Actions

You can contrast wrongful death compensation with the compensation recoverable in survival claims. A survival claim represents the final losses of the victim due to the fatal injury. Examples of losses that might be compensated through a survival action include:

  • Medical bills charged to the estate
  • Funeral and burial expenses paid by the estate
  • Pain and suffering caused by the fatal injury

In states that have survival actions, the compensation gets paid to the estate. The estate, in turn, distributes the compensation with the rest of the estate’s assets.

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Common Wrongful Death Claims

Wrongful death claims can result from a variety of actions, including the following:

Car Accidents

Over 42,000 people died in U.S. car crashes in 2022. Most of these crashes resulted from dangerous driving behaviors like distracted, intoxicated, or careless driving. When a negligent driver causes a fatal accident, the victim’s family or estate can file a claim for wrongful death negligence.

Defective Products

Manufacturers of defective products are strictly liable for the injuries they cause. When a product defect causes a fatal injury, the manufacturer may face a lawsuit for wrongful death. Under strict liability principles, the manufacturer is liable even if it did not intend or even know about the defect in its products.

Toxic Chemicals

Toxic chemicals like pesticides, building materials, and consumer products can cause long-term cellular damage. As a result, victims may develop diseases like cancer decades after exposure. Lawsuits for Roundup and other toxic products are meant to compensate living victims and the families of deceased victims.

Dangerous Drugs

Some drugs have fatal side effects, such as an increased risk of stroke or heart attack. When patients die from these effects, families can file or participate in class action lawsuits against the drug company. The resulting wrongful death settlement can compensate these families for their losses.

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice happens when a medical provider fails to meet the professional standard of care. The resulting diagnostic and treatment errors can kill patients. After a patient dies of medical malpractice, the family can pursue a wrongful death action against the doctor, hospital, and other parties responsible for the fatal injury.

Contact ConsumerShield to Learn More

When you lose a loved one due to someone else’s wrongful or negligent actions, you need compensation and closure. ConsumerShield can analyze your situation and connect you with a lawyer who can represent you. Contact us for a free case review.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Yes, personal injury lawyers usually handle lawsuits for wrongful death. Wrongful death laws explain which party the lawyer must include in the lawsuit. Other than that wrinkle, wrongful death lawsuits are similar to personal injury lawsuits, except the resulting injury ended the victim’s life.

  • The at-fault party and their insurers will pay in a wrongful death claim. The lawsuit can include any party that contributed to the fatal injury. For example, suppose someone died after being exposed to asbestos due to a defective respirator. You could sue both the asbestos and respirator manufacturers.

  • To prove liability for a wrongful death, you must show that the other party caused the death due to negligent or wrongful actions. Negligence means the other party failed to exercise due care. Wrongful actions could include manufacturing a defective product or even intentional homicide.

  • Wrongful death cases usually start with an insurance claim against the at-fault party. If the claim gets denied, your wrongful death lawyer will file a lawsuit. The other party could fight or settle. You might not reach a trial for a year or longer if they fight.

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