The highest wrongful death award made in 2018 was made in Pennsylvania for $160 million. These damages are often very high but it’s important to fully understand how you would qualify if your loved one was involved in an unfortunate accident resulting in their death.
Let’s see what wrongful death is and a few interesting facts around the subject.
What is wrongful death?
Wrongful death is legally defined as the taking of an individual’s life resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.
Where a person is killed due to the wrongful conduct of another person, the beneficiaries may file a wrongful death action against those responsible for the death.
This area of the law is defined by statute and varies from state to state.
A wrongful death action is separate from a criminal action, so a defendant acquitted of murder can still be sued for wrongful death.
The action can be founded on both intentional and unintentional acts.
Since an unborn fetus is not considered as a person until after it has been born alive, a wrongful death action can only be brought on behalf of a baby that was born alive.
What is needed to prove wrongful death?
To prove that your loved one was the victim of wrongful death, you need to be able to prove that the defendant owed your loved one a duty of care, that the defendant breached that duty of care, that your loved one died as a result of that breach and that you suffered damages. Let’s briefly look at each leg you are required to prove:
Duty of care
The duty of care is the responsibility to act in a reasonable and responsible manner. For example, a duty of care is owed by the driver of a vehicle to all other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
The motorist has a duty not to drive recklessly or in such a manner that could threaten the lives and safety of other road users.
Texting behind the wheel while driving and driving while intoxicated all involve the breach of the duty of care.
Violation of the duty of care
You will be required to prove that the defendant was negligent.
Negligence is a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances. So, a driver who drove recklessly was negligent in that an ordinary prudent person would not have driven in such a fashion.
The Negligence caused the death
Next you will need to prove that the negligent act caused the death. This is sometimes difficult to prove. However, causation is necessary in a wrongful death case.
Damages suffered as a result of the wrongful death
For you to claim compensation, you need to be able to prove that you suffered damages as a result of your loved one’s death.
These damages could include any of the following:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of support
- Income the deceased would have earned had they lived
- Household services your loved one would have performed
Is it difficult to prove wrongful death?
It is generally simple to prove a duty of care, that the duty was breached, and that loss was suffered. It is often a lot more tricky to prove causation which is usually required on a balance of probabilities. All the facts would be considered.
Every case is different, so it’s impossible to conclude whether it is difficult to generally prove wrongful death.
Can a girlfriend sue for wrongful death?
Successful wrongful death actions are designed to compensate spouses, registered domestic partners, children, and other close family members who have suffered financial harm.
A girlfriend who simply cohabits with a partner will suffer the same financial loss as a married spouse, but without a marriage certificate, she will not have the same rights as if she would have been married.
However, if the girlfriend is named in the will of the deceased, then the girlfriend may be able to persuade the estate’s executor to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the estate, in which case she could get paid out by the estate.
There is no obligation on the executor to pursue a wrongful death claim.
To sum up
If you have reason to believe that you could have a wrongful death claim, it is a good idea to see an experienced specialized attorney. They will help you assess whether you have a claim and whether it is worth pursuing. Learn more about how to find a wrongful death attorney in your area here.
The initial consultation should be free of charge, and a contingency arrangement could see your case being funded by the firm and deductions only being made in the event of success. So you have nothing to lose.