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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

How to File a Lawsuit to Collect Damages for the Wrongful Death of a Loved One

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If someone dies due to the negligent, reckless, or deliberate behavior of someone else, then the surviving family members will be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to collect damages for their loved one's untimely death. This is basically what a wrongful death lawsuit is - a civil court action filed to determine the amount of damages that surviving family members should collect due to the wrongful death of their loved one.

What Are the Grounds for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The premise behind a wrongful death lawsuit is that not only did the deceased person lose their life due to someone else's negligence, recklessness, or deliberate act, but their family members have been directly impacted both emotionally and financially due to the death.

In order to be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving family members must establish two things:

  1. They must first prove that their loved one's death was in fact caused by someone else's negligence, recklessness, or deliberate act and not by their loved one's own action or inaction.

  2. If the grounds for #1 are met, then the surviving family members must next establish that they suffered measurable damages due to their loved one's wrongful death.

Common grounds for wrongful death lawsuits include an accidental death caused by an automobile accident, a work-related death or medical malpractice, or a death caused by an unlawful act during the commission of a crime.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

State laws dictate who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In all states surviving spouses and children can file while in some states extended family members including grandparents and siblings can file.

In all cases the surviving family members will be forced to open a probate estate in order to be able to sue on behalf of their deceased loved one. If minor children are involved, then the court overseeing the wrongful death lawsuit may require that a guardian be appointed to look out for the best interest of the minor.

What Types of Damages Can Be Collected in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Surviving family members can collect the following types of damages once they establish that their loved one's death was due to a wrongful act:

  1. Medical bills and burial expenses.
  2. Compensatory damages for lost wages that their loved one would have earned had they lived their normal life expectancy.
  3. Compensatory damages for the pain and suffering endured by the surviving family members due to their loved one's absence.
  4. In some states punitive damages that are intended to punish the person who caused the wrongful death and discourage similar behavior can be collected.

All states have statutes of limitation that dictate how long you can wait to file a wrongful death lawsuit before you will be forever barred from doing so in the future. If you believe that your loved one's death was caused by the negligence, reckless, or deliberate act of someone else, then consult with an attorney to understand your legal rights and to determine if you should pursue a wrongful death claim.

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