When someone unexpectedly passes away in an accident caused by another person or entity, the deceased’s survivors may work with a wrongful death attorney to hold the responsible party or parties accountable. By filing such a claim, surviving family members may be able to hold the at-fault defendants liable to pay a number of different damages so that they can recover compensation for the economic and emotional losses that resulted from the death of their loved one.
What Is a Wrongful Death Case?
A wrongful death case may exist when a person is killed because of the fault of another. The other person’s actions may be negligent or intentional. Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits that are filed by wrongful death attorneys in civil court, and they may proceed at the same time as any criminal cases that might also be filed against the defendant for the same conduct.
Types of Wrongful Death Claims
Many different types of events can lead to a survivor contacting a wrongful death attorney. People may be killed in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, construction accidents, and medical malpractice accidents, amongst others.
Although it can be difficult when grieving the death of a loved one, it is important for the deceased’s survivors to take action as soon as possible by contacting a wrongful death attorney. Investigating and proving wrongful death claims can be challenging, and it is often easier for a wrongful death attorney to build a strong case when the evidence is still fresh. In addition, every state sets a statute of limitation, or a time limit for filing a wrongful death claim. Typically, plaintiffs have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit, but in some cases, the time limit falls to just one year.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?
A representative of the deceased’s estate (with the help of a wrongful death attorney) typically files a wrongful death claim on behalf of the survivors. These survivors are also called the real parties in interest. States vary regarding who is considered a real party in interest. All states recognize the surviving spouses, children, and adopted children of the victim as real parties in interest. When an unmarried person passes away, his or her parents are also real parties in interest. Some states also recognize putative spouses, unrelated financial dependents, life partners, distant relatives, and all parties who suffer financial losses as real parties in interest in wrongful death claims. Finally, some states include the parents of deceased fetuses as real parties in interest in wrongful death lawsuits.
When the Deceased Victim Is Partially Liable
In some cases, such as car and motorcycle accidents, a wrongful death attorney may argue that the person who was killed was at least partially to blame for causing the accident and their own death. Whether or not the deceased is partially responsible, in some states, his or her family members may still be able to recover damages.
Most states, including Missouri, follow a comparative negligence rule in wrongful death claims. Some follow a pure comparative negligence approach, while others follow a modified approach.
In pure comparative negligence states, like Missouri, the jury determines the percentage of fault of each party. If the victim is found to be partly to blame, the resulting gross verdict will be reduced by the decedent’s percentage of fault. For example, if the deceased is found to be 25 percent at fault, the total award given to his or her family members will be reduced by 25 percent.
States that follow a modified comparative negligence approach will not allow the plaintiff to recover damages if the decedent was at fault for causing the accident by 50 percent or more. Finally, a few states follow a contributory negligence approach. In these states, if the victim held any part of the blame, the recovery will be barred regardless of how minimal the victim’s liability might have been. However, most states follow the modified comparative negligence approach.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Cases
The damages available in a wrongful death case will depend on several factors, including the victim’s profession, the victim’s expected lifetime earnings, the victim’s age, and the losses that were incurred.
Common damages recovered in wrongful death cases include reasonable burial and funeral costs, any medical expenses incurred to provide care prior to the victim’s death, lost expected future income, lost inheritance rights, pain and suffering suffered by the victim before death, loss of consortium, loss of the guidance provided by a parent to a child, and loss of benefits such as health insurance. In very egregious cases, a family may also recover punitive damages and damages for pain and suffering.
If your loved one was killed in an accident caused by someone else, contact the Law Offices of Bryan Musgrave today to discuss your potential claim. With compassion, knowledge, and expertise, our wrongful death attorneys will help you recover the compensation you deserve for the wrongful death of your loved one.