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What is a “Wrongful Death” and How Can Relatives Be Compensated for Such a Tragic Loss?

What is a “Wrongful Death” and How Can Relatives Be Compensated for Such a Tragic Loss?

Whenever a loved one dies, it’s a genuine tragedy. But when someone you depend on is killed due to the carelessness of another person – whether it be an individual, a business, a doctor, or even a major corporation – that tragedy is amplified by emotional and financial pain that can linger for years. That’s especially true if the person who was killed was a family breadwinner, a parent of small children, or a caregiver for senior citizens.

We call such cases “wrongful deaths” because in most cases they were entirely preventable. The victim didn’t have to die, and wouldn’t have, except for the fact that someone did something wrong (as in medical malpractice or reckless driving cases) or failed to do something they should have (as in many product liability or negligence cases). If you’re trying to determine if you should file a civil suit for the wrongful death of a loved one, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions on this somber topic.

Who is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

 
Following the death of a loved one, a Michigan court will appoint a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. This personal representative is a fiduciary who is responsible for the control and management of all assets that belong solely to the deceased person — until those assets can be distributed to the decedent’s beneficiaries. In addition to those duties the personal representative is the only individual who can file a lawsuit on behalf of the deceased person. So, functionally, the personal representative will take the place of the deceased person and represent their estate in any wrongful death lawsuits.

The personal representative can be anyone. However, typically, the personal representative of an estate is an individual named in the deceased person’s will. Usually, a spouse, parent, or adult child of the deceased will be named as the personal representative of the estate.

What Types of Deaths Are Considered Wrongful in Michigan?

 
Any deaths caused by (once again we’re quoting state law) the “wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another” fall under this statute. This can include:

  • Negligence, such as deaths caused by drivers being distracted or texting behind the wheel.
  • Neglect which can occur in hospital or nursing home settings when patients don’t receive appropriate care or are otherwise passively mistreated.
  • Medical malpractice, which can include erroneous diagnosis of illnesses, dispensing incorrect medications, or improperly administering medical treatments.
  • Product liability including incidents that sometimes lead to recalls of dangerous products due to design flaws or manufacturing defects.
  • Work accidents where employers haven’t taken proper care to ensure safe working conditions for employees or to correctly maintain equipment.

While we’ve listed a few examples above, there are many other potential causes of wrongful deaths. To determine whether your case qualifies for legal consideration, contact us for a free consultation.

How Do you File a Wrongful Death Claim?

 
The best way is for the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to call a licensed personal injury attorney to assess the case and begin the pre-suit and filing process. Because Michigan has defined time limits for the filing of many types of lawsuits (these rules are called the Statute of Limitations, which we discussed in a previous article), we suggest you start the process as quickly as possible following the victim’s death. Additionally, some claims (especially against governmental entities) have an initial notice requirement. The period to notice the government can be as short as a month or two after the incident, so it is crucial to contact an attorney as soon as possible following the wrongful death of a loved one. An expert personal injury attorney is well acquainted with the legal nuances associated with each type of case and is best suited to navigate that tragic situation for you.

How Are Wrongful Death Suits Decided?

 
Unlike cases involving criminal law, where guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, wrongful death cases are civil lawsuits where responsibility is determined by what’s called a “preponderance of evidence.” That means if the court determines the person or company accused of causing the victim’s death is 51 percent or more responsible, the estate will win the case and financial damages can be awarded. To be clear, in criminal law a person accused of murder can be declared not guilty by a jury due to reasonable doubt, yet still might be found legally responsible in a subsequent civil trial for causing someone’s wrongful death. One famous example of this happening is the O.J. Simpson case, where he was acquitted by a jury of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but was later but later found responsible for their deaths in a civil lawsuit and ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages.

How Much Financial Compensation Can I Receive for a Wrongful Death Claim?

 
Michigan places no limits on financial awards for wrongful death claims. In fact, the state permits damages to be granted for the person’s medical and burial costs, the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased person, and the loss of future monetary support the deceased person would have provided, among other forms of loss incurred by the survivors. The dollar amounts can be quite significant depending upon the age and “earning power” of the person who passed away, the number of people affected by the death, and many other factors. Personal finance website Sapling offers one formula for calculating future lost earnings, but personal injury attorneys might invoke testimony from accountants or other financial experts when providing evidence of lost future income in wrongful death cases.

Who Should I Call About a Wrongful Death?

 
For more than 25 years, Mike Morse Law Firm has assisted thousands of clients with cases of all types, ranging from personal injury lawsuits to wrongful death actions. We have lawyers on staff who specialize in just about every type of personal injury civil lawsuit, and we’re ready to answer your questions and address your concerns day or night. To reach a legal expert for a free consultation about a wrongful death incident, call 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) anytime. We’ll be here for you and your family.