What Does Liable For Wrongful Death Mean?
The basis of liability in a wrongful death case is typically negligence. When another person’s negligent actions result in the death of someone else, and the circumstances would have equated to a personal injury claim had the injured person survived, the law recognizes that as a wrongful death. Depending on the state, certain parties survived by the deceased can file a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. If you lost a loved one due to wrongful death, an attorney would help you understand your right to compensation and how to hold the liable party accountable for their actions.
Who Could Be Liable for a Wrongful Death?
What makes a wrongful death case unique among other personal injury cases is that any personal injury, also known as tort, could potentially become a wrongful death claim if the injured person succumbs to their injuries. Some examples of potentially liable parties in a wrongful death case include:
- A negligent driver. If your loved one died from injuries sustained in an auto accident caused by another driver, the at-fault driver would be liable for damages. Auto accident cases are the most common personal injury claims, and most attorneys have extensive experience in auto accident law.
- A product manufacturer. Should a defective product cause your loved one’s injuries and death, the manufacturer or distributor could be liable for damages. For example, if they suffered injuries in a car accident caused by a defective car part, you may sue the car manufacturer for damages. These cases are often complex and challenging. You would need the help of a legal representative.
- A medical professional. Doctors, nurses, medical aides and assistants, and even healthcare facilities can be held responsible for substandard care when it leads to the death of a patient. But, again, these cases are typically challenging and require a legal representative.
- A nursing home facility. Nursing home neglect is an unfortunate reality, and older adults face a multitude of injuries due to insufficient care. When neglect results in a person’s death, the family could potentially recover damages in a wrongful death case.
- An assailant. Assault is a tort based on malicious intent rather than neglect. However, it is still punishable in civil and criminal court, and the burden of proof is significantly lower in civil court. If your loved one died due to an assault, you could file a wrongful death suit even while the defendant faces criminal charges.
Identifying the liable party in any personal injury case can be straightforward or substantially more challenging. Additionally, as the plaintiff, you must provide proof of negligence and damages. This is a significant part of a personal injury attorney’s job.
Proving Negligence for a Wrongful Death
The burden of proof in a civil wrongful death suit is “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Therefore, you must provide evidence that the defendant owed your loved one a duty of care, such as an obligation to abide by the laws of the road or a responsibility to provide standard medical care. Then, you must show that the defendant breached that duty of care, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or prescribing the wrong medication. Finally, you need a link between their breach of duty and your loved one’s accident and injuries. For example, did the drunk driver hit the deceased person’s car and cause a deadly crash, or did the prescribed medication interact with the deceased person’s other medications and cause an adverse reaction? The above examples apply to auto accident and medical malpractice cases, respectively. However, these three elements, the duty of care, the breached duty, and causation, apply to all personal injury cases involving negligence.
Who Can File a Lawsuit Against for Damages in a Wrongful Death Case?
Most states allow some variation of immediate family members to file a wrongful death suit for the loss of a loved one. In Michigan, only a personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file. Because the law allows a person to choose anyone to be the executor of their estate, the personal representative could be a family member. However, the state also restricts the potential recipients of damages to the following family members:
- The surviving children or stepchildren
- The surviving spouse
- The surviving parents or grandparents
- The surviving siblings
- Anyone listed as a beneficiary in the deceased person’s will
When none of these parties are available, the court can award damages to anyone in line to inherit the deceased person’s estate. Note that Michigan recognizes the loss of a fetus through miscarriage as a wrongful death.
What Damages Would the Liable Party Be Responsible for in a Wrongful Death Case?
The compensatory damages available in a wrongful death claim fall under two categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are the financial losses associated with the death of a loved one in a tragic accident:
- Any medical expenses the deceased incurred before their death, including emergency care expenses, hospital stays, surgeries, doctor visits, and medications
- The lost financial support the deceased provided
- The loss of inheritance and benefits, such as healthcare insurance and retirement plan contributions
- The cost of funeral expenses, including burial or cremation
- The cost of repairing or replacing property if the accident resulted in property damage
The non-economic damages are intangible losses, such as the physical and mental pain and suffering your loved one endured, the pain and suffering you endured emotionally, and the loss of your loved one’s companionship, care, nurturing, love, support, and society. A spouse could receive compensation for the loss of consortium as well. Many factors affect the value of non-economic losses, including the severity of the accident and the amount of time the deceased suffered from their injuries. A crucial part of a wrongful death attorney’s job is to identify these damages and assign a monetary value.
Do You Need a Lawyer for a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death cases are particularly sensitive. The statute of limitations is often short, meaning the representative must file a claim shortly after the untimely death of a loved one while the family is still grieving. Given the extreme circumstances, those who lost a loved one should have access to every available legal resource to ensure the person or party responsible for the accident faces the consequences of their actions. Personal injury lawyers are well-equipped to handle these cases. They typically have experience battling large companies and investigating complex accidents to find sufficient evidence that allows the family access to financial compensation. Unfortunately, there is no way to replace what was lost in a wrongful death case. However, at the very least, an attorney can ensure the family does not suffer economic strife in addition to their losses.
At Mike Morse Law Firm, our team of wrongful death attorneys will protect grieving families from the unfortunate greed of insurance companies. We know their tactics and can protect you from unfair attempts to lessen the value of your claim and the defendant’s responsibility. Losing someone will never be easy, but we will use our expertise to ensure you can rebuild financially. Our phone lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, contact Mike Morse Law Firm at (855) 439-0159 to schedule your free consultation today. We are ready and willing to listen to your case and offer knowledgeable advice.