If your relative dies as a result of someone else's misconduct, you might be able to file a lawsuit. The wrongdoer can be an individual, a company, or another type of entity such as a government bureau. A wrongful death lawsuit is limited to monetary damages.
Not Everyone Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
You must be related to the victim in some way, or somehow injured - financially somehow- by the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Usually, you must be a spouse or a child. Some states allow more distant relatives to sue. Some states don't allow one family member to sue another family member for the wrongful death of a third family member. In addition, the personal representative of the victim's probate estate can sue to reimburse the victim's estate. In this case, any damage award will eventually go to the victim's creditors and heirs.
You Must Prove Your Case to Win
The misconduct that caused the victim's wrongful death can be either an act or a failure to act. The defendant's conduct must have been either careless or intentionally designed to cause harm. The victim must have at least one surviving family member who has suffered loss because of the victim's death. A personal representative must have been appointed for the victim's probate estate to file on behalf of the estate.
Misconduct Need Not Be Criminal
Many wrongful death lawsuits are filed because of deaths due to criminal acts such as murder, DUI, distracted driving, and serious medical malpractice. Some types of negligence, however, are not considered serious enough to justify criminal charges. For example, a nurse who fails to change a patient's bandages in a timely manner might not face criminal charges even if the patient dies, depending on state law. Nevertheless, the nurse (and the hospital) might lose a wrongful death lawsuit on this basis.
Damage Awards Can Be Very High
In a wrongful death lawsuit, you may claim damages for direct expenses like medical bills and funeral bills. You may also claim damages for the loss of a lifetime of financial support that the victim would have provided, or for the loss of household services that the victim would have performed. You can also sue for loss of emotional benefits such as companionship and sexual relations. In some cases, damages for non-economic losses are greater than damages for economic losses. Most wrongful death lawsuits are settled out of court, although in many cases a settlement is not reached until after a lawsuit is filed.
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