Who Can Sue For Wrongful Death in Michigan?
The unanticipated loss of a loved one in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence opens the door to many questions about liability and who has the right to seek compensation. State law mandates the parties eligible to file a wrongful death claim, and the first step is understanding if you have a valid case under tort law. Once you know the legal options available, you can talk to a wrongful death attorney about filing your claim or lawsuit.
What Constitutes a Wrongful Death in Michigan?
According to Michigan’s Complied Laws regarding death by a wrongful act, an wrongful death occurs when someone dies due to another party’s negligent or intentional act that would amount to a valid personal injury claim had the deceased person lived. For example, an intentional act, such as assault, could lead to death and result in both criminal charges and civil liability. In addition, negligence-based actions, such as car accidents or medical malpractice, could result in deadly injuries and a wrongful death claim.
Justice for an intentional wrongful death is not limited to criminal court, where the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In Michigan, certain parties can also file a wrongful death lawsuit against the defendant and seek financial compensation for economic and non-economic losses. The burden of proof in civil court is substantially lower at only “by a preponderance of the evidence.” Essentially, this means you could hold the at-fault party liable for damages as long as you can prove they are more likely than not responsible for the death of your loved one.
Who Is Eligible To File a Wrongful Death in Michigan?
Many states allow specific family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. However, Michigan limits eligibility to a personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. According to estate law in Michigan, the personal representative, also known as the executor, can be anyone named by the deceased. However, someone can challenge their choice of executor by validly arguing incompetence, allowing the court to appoint a new representative.
Family Members Eligible To Receive Damages
Should the estate executor file a wrongful death claim and receive a settlement or award for damages, Michigan law limits the family members eligible to receive compensation to:
- The surviving spouse and children of the deceased
- The surviving siblings and parents
- The surviving grandparents
- Surviving stepchildren of the deceased, meaning their spouse’s children
- Any beneficiaries of any property named in the deceased person’s will
In the absence of the people listed above, damages may go to anyone in line to inherit the deceased person’s estate. Additionally, Michigan recognizes the death of a fetus as a wrongful death should a pregnant woman have a miscarriage as a result of her injuries caused by another party’s negligence.
Michigan Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death
Every state mandates a statute of limitations for the different types of personal injury lawsuits. For example, in Michigan, the estate representative has three years from the date the victim died to file a lawsuit. However, the date of death and the date of the accident are not always the same. Therefore, if your loved one passed away after undergoing treatment for their injuries, the three-year timeframe would begin past the accident’s date. If you fail to file before the statute of limitations ends, the court will likely dismiss your case.
Be mindful of insurance bad faith tactics when filing an insurance claim. For example, suppose you file a wrongful death claim with the insurer, and they respond by denying your claim without a valid reason, delaying the investigation into your claim, refusing to recognize your attempts to communicate, or attempting to change the policy language to suit the company’s best interest. In that case, you should contact a wrongful death attorney immediately. Unfortunately, insurers will often use these tactics to run out the clock on the statute of limitations to ensure you have no option to file a lawsuit and collect sufficient damages.
What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Case?
Michigan places no universal cap on damages for a wrongful death case. However, there is a state-mandated limit on the value of non-economic damages available in medical malpractice cases. This would also apply to medical malpractice resulting in death, but there is no cap on economic damages.
Recoverable Economic Losses
Economic damages are the financial losses incurred due to the accident and untimely death of your loved one. Examples include:
- The cost of medical care the deceased received before their death, including emergency medical services, hospital stays, medications, surgeries, and doctor visits
- The financial support provided by the deceased, including lost wages and retirement contributions
- The loss of benefits, such as health insurance
- The loss of inheritance if you stood to inherit anything from the deceased
- The cost of funeral and burial or cremation expenses
The value of these damages varies greatly depending on the deceased’s financial contributions to family members eligible for damages. In wrongful death cases, the non-economic losses could be more substantial.
Recoverable Non-Economic Losses
A non-economic loss generally represents how the accident psychologically affected your loved one and you. These have no inherent monetary value but, through sophisticated techniques, can become calculable. Examples of non-economic damages include:
- The physical and emotional pain and suffering your loved one suffered from the accident and before their death
- The loss of the deceased’s companionship, care, society, love, and nurturing provided to the family
- The loss of consortium if the deceased was your spouse
To better understand the economic losses in your case, you can talk to a wrongful death attorney about how they value intangible losses.
Damages Caps in Medical Malpractice Cases
If you lose a loved one because of medical malpractice, there are two potential caps on the amount you can receive for non-economic damages. One limit is higher to accommodate malpractice that causes brain or spinal cord injuries leading to paralysis, permanent cognitive impairment, or permanent loss of reproductive ability. The is evaluated and adjusted annually, but recent caps were around $850,000 for malpractice resulting in the permanent injuries listed above and approximately $480,000 on the lower end.
What Can a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do for Your Case?
Grieving the loss of a loved one from a tragic accident is already difficult. Adding to that struggle the stress of filing a lawsuit and dealing with combative insurance companies may seem incomprehensible. A personal injury attorney with experience in wrongful death cases under Michigan law can help you build your case by investigating the accident, gathering supportive evidence, and representing you in negotiations and during a trial. With a professional on your side, you have a significantly better opportunity to recover adequate compensation for your financial and emotional losses. Nothing can replace your loved one, but an attorney can help you hold the at-fault party responsible.
At Mike Morse Law Firm, our team of over 40 legal professionals has experience helping the families of wrongful death victims restore the financial devastation from their loss and build their new lives as comfortably as possible during such a difficult time. If you have questions about liability for the death of your family member, contact Mike Morse Law Firm today for your free case evaluation. Our phone line is open 24 hours a day at (855) 932-4039. We are prepared to give you answers and help you get the compensation you deserve.