What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and How It Works

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If your loved one died as a result of somebody else’s actions, you could bring a wrongful death lawsuit against them. After taking them to court, should they be deemed liable for the death, you would be awarded compensation for the loss of your loved one. Before you file a claim, you need to know what a wrongful death lawsuit is and how it works. Here’s some important information you need to know before filing one.

What Constitutes a Wrongful Death Claim

Put simply, claims are civil actions, and in this case, they are brought against a person who has directly caused the death of someone else. These are often due to negligence or medical malpractice but can include incidents where the victim was killed intentionally. Things like car accidents where the other person is at fault or a surgeon whose patient dies because they didn’t follow proper procedures are reasons to file a claim. 

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Unlike in criminal cases, where the standard of proof for a conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt, wrongful death claims operate using a preponderance of the evidence. This means you only have to prove your claim is more likely to be true than not.

Are You Eligible to File a Lawsuit?

Because a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be filed by the victim for obvious reasons, someone else must do so on their behalf. Who is actually eligible to file a wrongful death claim can vary from place to place, but one constant is immediate family members. A spouse is usually permitted to file a claim as well. In some places, distant family members, domestic partners, or partners in a civil union may be allowed to file on behalf of their loved one. As courts will rarely let more than one wrongful death lawsuit be brought against a defendant, family members must decide who will file the claim.

What Do You Need to Prove?

When proving a preponderance of the evidence, you’ll be required to follow the same burdens of proof for the deceased victim as someone who files a personal injury lawsuit must. You need to show that the defendant is at fault and that they violated their duty of care. When proving the latter, you need to show that the defendant had an obligation to avoid injuring the victim or placing them in danger.

Sometimes doing this isn’t enough, though. Some places have laws known as contributory negligence, meaning that if the victim contributed in any way to their injury or death, they aren’t entitled to compensation. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, there was a case where a man was killed when a vehicle struck him while crossing an intersection late at night. 

However, the courts ruled against his family because the victim had been dressed in dark clothing and crossed while the “Don’t Walk” sign was flashing. According to a wrongful death lawyer in Fredericksburg, even if the victim is merely 1% at fault for their injuries or death, the state’s pure contributory negligence law means they or their families cannot recover damages for the incident. Before you file a claim, get a copy of the police report or insurance investigation results to be certain this isn’t the case.

Are You Within the Statute of Limitations?

Many places have different statutes of limitations in which a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed. This means you only have a certain amount of time after your loved one’s demise in which you can legally file a claim. Many states like California, New Jersey, Nevada, and Virginia require you to file your lawsuit within 2 years of the victim’s death, while others can vary between 1 and 3 years. It’s important to begin the process of filing a wrongful death lawsuit as soon as possible to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to do so.

What Damages Are You Entitled to Receive?

If your wrongful death lawsuit is successful, you’ll be entitled to compensation for damages. These can include things the victim experienced prior to their death, like pain and suffering or medical expenses. You can also receive money to cover the costs of a funeral and burial. Other damages may be awarded due to loss of expected income or inheritance, the value of service they could have provided, and any familial benefits like love, guidance, and companionship.

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

The death of a loved one is traumatic enough on its own. Now that you know what a wrongful death lawsuit is and how it works, you’ll have an easier time when it comes to filing one. Remember this important information in mind when you begin the process so you will have a better understanding of what you need to do to get the compensation you and your loved one deserves.