What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit that alleges that the deceased was killed as a result of negligence, a wrongful action of the defendant, or neglect, and the surviving dependents or beneficiaries are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the defendant’s conduct.
Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?
In Arizona, California, and Colorado, a wrongful death lawsuit may be brought by:
- The spouse of the deceased;
- The heir or heirs (children) of the deceased;
- The parent, or parents, of the deceased; and sometimes
- The decedent’s designated beneficiary.
Nevertheless, no matter who brings the action, such persons who are heirs of the deceased must share in the settlement or judgment obtained.
Examples of Wrongful Death Cases
Car Crashes and Pedestrian Deaths
Probably the most common examples of wrongful death cases are car crashes and pedestrian deaths, simply due to the sheer volume of drivers on the road. In California alone, the number of drivers totals well over 25 million. With so many drivers, it is not surprising that thousands of car crash fatalities occur each year. The majority of car crash fatalities are due to one driver’s negligence.
Product Liability Deaths
Defective product claims are another significant source of wrongful death cases. If a person dies because of a defective product, the maker of that product can be held responsible to the dependents or beneficiaries of the decedent. Common examples of wrongful death cases related to product defects include airbags failing to deploy, defective furniture, and toxic chemicals in food. A famous example of a product liability case that also resulted in wrongful death cases, along with hundreds of injuries, involves Takata airbags.
These types of claims arise from a medical provider’s negligence. The most common examples of wrongful death cases involving medical malpractice are misdiagnosis and botched medical procedures that lead to death.
Not every death related to a medical provider’s care rises to the level of medical negligence. It is important to understand the standards for a medical negligence claim. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will look for the following four legal elements to prove a claim: 1) a professional duty owed to the patient; 2) a breach of that professional duty; 3) injury caused by that breach; and 4) resulting damages to the patient.
Time Limits: Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
In civil law there are deadlines in which a plaintiff must file a claim. Otherwise, the claimant will be barred from doing so. These time limits are called “statutes of limitations.”
For the clock to begin ticking on a statute-of-limitations deadline, the plaintiff must suffer some damage. As a general rule, a cause of action for personal injuries will arise on the date that a party knows or should have known of the injury and its cause.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit’s so-called statute of limitations? Generally, wrongful death actions must be filed within two (2) years after death. Barring certain circumstances, this is true in states such as in California, Arizona, and Colorado.
Calculating Damages in Wrongful Death Cases
Generally, a jury may award economic (financial) and non-economic (pain and suffering, loss of consortium) damages in a wrongful death case.
Examples of wrongful death case damages that may be awarded include:
- The cost of your loved one’s medical care prior to passing.
- The value of your loved one’s pain and suffering.
- The value of the deceased’s financial contribution to the family, including loss of benefits and inheritance.
- The cost of funeral and burial services.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of society: a child could recover damages based on the value of a deceased parent’s companionship, advice, guidance, love, and affection.
- Loss of consortium: a spouse may recover damages based on the benefits that would have been received from the continued life of the decedent.
In states such as California, Arizona, and Colorado, a jury may also award punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded in cases of malicious wrongdoing — to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from behaving similarly. However, states that allow punitive damages usually have capped the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded, or have limited the types of cases where punitive damages may be awarded.
Establishing Fault in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In order to establish fault of the other party in a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove the party caused the underlying tort — in other words, the wrongful act. In most examples of wrongful death cases, the underlying tort is negligence.
Negligence is the failure to do something a reasonably careful person would do, or doing something a reasonably careful person would not do.
To prove negligence the plaintiff must demonstrate that:
- The defendant owed a duty of care;
- The defendant breached that duty; and
- The breach caused the plaintiff harm.
Questions? Call Us
Often, the death of a loved one may be the worst time in your life. It is important to know that you have rights, and the ability to pursue those rights through a wrongful death lawsuit.
If you’re trying to determine whether your case has grounds for wrongful death lawsuit in the states of Arizona, California, or Colorado, Negretti & Associates would be happy to discuss your questions and see if we can help.