As difficult as it is to lose a loved one, losing a loved one to wrongful death is even more traumatic. Wrongful death is a death that occurred due to someone’s negligence or “wrongful” actions.
A wrongful death claim is a legal action that is filed as a civil action against a person who is being held accountable for a death. The claim is usually filed by close family, since a dead person cannot file suit, and asserts a certain amount of negligence or wrongdoing by the person being accused (also known as the defendant). The surviving family members are considered to be beneficiaries and are entitled to monetary damages.
Originally, there was no legal recourse for surviving family members to take wrongful death cases to common law courtrooms across the United States. Over the course of time, that began to change as more and more states began passing laws to protect survivors. Today, every state in the U.S. has laws that allow family members to file a lawsuit for monetary damages when they have lost a loved one wrongfully. The statues for filing a wrongful death suit vary a bit from state to state, however, they are all very similar in nature and cover a variety of types of wrongful death categories that stem from a death occurring from personal injury.
Since the matter is usually brought before a civil court, as opposed to a criminal court, the burden of proof is a simply a predominance of the evidence, as opposed to proving the case beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt as is mandatory in the criminal court system. It is because of this difference that it is much easier for a family to seek justice for the death of their loved one in this manner than it would be to push for criminal prosecution. That being said, it is not impossible to prosecute a person criminally as well as seek civil damages. It is not uncommon for someone to seek a murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide conviction, while still suing civilly for wrongful death.
Wrongful death is usually broken down a bit to fit into one main category such as medical malpractice, products liability, defective drugs, or toxic exposure.
A wrongful death resulting from medical malpractice is becoming increasingly common across the United States. It is estimated that over two hundred thousand people die every year because of medical malpractice. (statistic courtesy of lawyers.com). Medical malpractice can be further broken down to include: medication errors, birth injuries, general negligence, and surgical malpractice.
A wrongful death resulting from products liability means that the death occurred as a direct result of a defective product. A product can be classified as any type of consumer goods, such as prescription drugs, automobiles, equipment, and many other products. There have been numerous products liabilities claims filed against tire companies for faulty tires that resulted in deadly automotive crashes, as well as automotive companies for deaths that occurred due to equipment malfunctions or seatbelt failures.
Wrongful death as a result of defective drugs is another common case seen in courtrooms today. Many of the drugs on the market today have numerous side effects that can lead to serious complications and death. When this occurs, the manufacturer of the drug can be hit with a wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death as a result of toxic exposure means that the person died as a result of being exposed to harmful materials on a regular basis. This often happens at a workplace over the course of many years. Many toxic exposure cases deal with asbestos, lead, vinyl chloride, and benzene.
Since, as previously stated, the laws vary somewhat from state to state, and every state has different time limitations for filing a wrongful death suit, it is a good idea to consult with an attorney. He or she will be able to evaluate your case and advise you on the best way to proceed.
If you do end up taking your case to court, there are a wide variety of ways your compensation can be determined. Most commonly, the damages awarded are based upon the deceased person’s earnings or potential earnings. The jury will be informed of the following: how much money the deceased earned, how much money the deceased saved, and how financially dependent the survivors were upon the deceased. The jury may also consider the medical expenses incurred, along with the funeral costs.
There are certain circumstances, however, where earnings may not be able to figure, such as in the case of a deceased housewife. In these cases, an expert may be called in to assist the jury. An attorney may also be able to calculate this number and help you to understand how the process works.
While reducing your loved one to a dollar amount may seem a bit cold, money is the only award a civil jury can hand down. Since the jury cannot replace your loved one, the law is very limited in how it can provide compensation. Money is one medium that the legal system can objectively use to help illustrate what you have lost.
There are many issues that arise during a wrongful death trial, and you will undoubtedly have numerous questions. An attorney that specializes in wrongful death can be an extremely valuable asset. He or she can help you in your time of grief, and guide you throughout the entire process. An attorney can secure all necessary records, data, and information, and ensure it is handled properly and confidentially. He or she can also make sure your claim is filed correctly, and in the period of time allotted for your particular state.
There is absolutely no way to regain what you have lost when you suffer a loss due to wrongful death. However, you can take some bit of comfort in the fact that you can get a small amount of justice through the judicial system. A wrongful death attorney will make the legal end of your ordeal flow smoothly, and help you to once again assemble the broken pieces of your life. At Benson, Bertoldo, Baker & Carter, a personal injury law firm located in Las Vegas, they have a team of highly qualified attorneys who will help you through the process.
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