What is Wrongful Death?

by Clayton Crowley
in Blog
on 17 June 2014
Hits: 3864

Certified Legal Wrongful Death Attorneys, Experts in Wrongful Death Crowley & Gribble P.C.

When someone dies due to the fault of another person or
entity (like a car manufacturer), the survivors may be able to bring a wrongful
death lawsuit. Such a lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors' loss, such
as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.

Here's a primer on wrongful death claims -- what they are, who can sue, who can
be sued, and what damages may be recovered.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim exists when a person dies due to the
legal fault of another person. The right to file a lawsuit for wrongful death
is a relatively new concept. "common law" (the laws brought to the
United States from England) did not allow this kind of lawsuit. But during the
last century, state and federal courts created the right to bring a wrongful
death action. Every state in this country now has some kind of wrongful death law.

Wrongful death claims involve all types of fatal accidents
from simple car accidents to complicated medical malpractice or product
liability cases. Persons, companies, and governmental agencies can be legally
at fault for acting negligently (failing to act as a reasonable person would
have acted) and for acting intentionally.

Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim must be filed by a representative on
behalf of the survivors who suffer damage from the decedent's death (they are
called the "real parties in interest"). The representative is usually
the executor of the decedent's estate. The "real parties in interest"
vary from state to state. Some of those people might include:

Immediate family members. In all states, immediate family members
like spouses and children (including adopted children) and parents of unmarried
children can recover under wrongful death actions.

Life partners, financial dependents, and putative spouses.
In some states, a domestic or life partner, anyone who was financially
dependent on the decedent, and a "putative spouse" (a person who had
a good faith belief that he or she was married to the victim) have a right of

Distant family members. Some states allow more distant
family members, such as brothers, sisters, and grandparents, to bring wrongful
death lawsuits. For example, a grandparent who is raising a child may be able
to bring an action.

All persons who suffer financially. Some states allow all
persons who suffer financially from the death to bring a wrongful death action
for lost care or support, even if they are not related by blood or marriage to
the victim.

Parents of a deceased fetus. In some states, the death of a
fetus can be the basis for a wrongful death suit. In several other states, parents
cannot bring a wrongful death action to recover for financial and emotional
losses resulting from the death of a fetus. In those states, the parents can
bring a wrongful death action only if the child was born alive and then died.
Check your state law and consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney to
find out if such an action is allowed in your state.

Who May Be Sued for a Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against a wide
variety of persons, companies, government agencies, and employees. For example,
in a car accident involving a faulty roadway and a drunk driver, a wrongful
death action might include defendants such as:

•the driver or employer at fault in the automobile accident

•the designer or builder of the faulty roadway

•a government agent who failed to provide adequate warnings
regarding a road hazard that caused the accident

•the manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty or
dangerous part of the vehicle

•the persons who sold, served, or gave alcohol to the
impaired driver, or

•the owner of the premises where the alcohol was served.

Immunity for Government Agencies and Employees

In some cases, certain persons or agencies may be immune
from a wrongful death lawsuit. That means they cannot be sued for wrongful
death. Who might be entitled to immunity again varies from state to state. For
example, in some situations, government agencies and employees might be immune
from a wrongful death lawsuit, or even family members in certain circumstances.

Recent federal laws provide immunity from wrongful death
claims to defendants in railroad collisions and certain product liability cases
including medical devices. Such immunity might also extend to drug
manufacturers -- this will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009.

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