Can I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
In certain situations, the surviving family members of a deceased individual may have the right to file a wrongful death claim to pursue financial compensation from liable parties for both monetary and emotional damages. It is important to understand when you can file a wrongful death lawsuit so that you and your family can get the help you need and deserve.
When is a death considered “wrongful?”
Wrongful death lawsuits adhere to the same basic requirements as a personal injury lawsuit, which means that a valid claim depends upon a breach of the standard duty of care. This duty refers to the obligation held by every individual to avoid causing harm to others. Any action—or lack of action—that violates this duty renders the individual liable for any resulting damages.
A death that results from one of the following can be grounds for a wrongful death claim:
- Intentional acts such as assault
- Motor vehicle accidents caused by negligence
- Medical malpractice
- A defective or dangerous product
- A poorly maintained property
- Any other accident caused by negligence
Criminal Charges vs. Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When someone intentionally causes the death of another, criminal charges will likely be brought upon the offender. The victim’s surviving family members often do not understand that even if the offender faces criminal charges, it is still possible to pursue a separate wrongful death claim. These claims are considered civil lawsuits, and are intended to compensate surviving family members for damages they have suffered as a result of their loved one’s death, whereas criminal charges are intended to punish an offender for his or her wrongdoing.
Additionally, wrongful death lawsuits are not bound to the same principals of a criminal case, namely in that neither a presumption of innocence nor a burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt exists. Even if the defendant is found not guilty in a criminal case because of the existence of reasonable doubt, he or she may still be found legally liable for a wrongful death claim based on the evidence that does exist. For example, OJ Simpson was cleared of the murder charges against his ex-wife and her boyfriend, however, he was found legally liable for their wrongful deaths in a civil trial.
In a wrongful death claim, the following must be proved:
- The existence of negligence or intent to cause harm
- A probable causative relationship between negligence or intent and the victim’s death
- Financial hardship for you and other surviving family members
Why file a wrongful death claim?
No amount of money can bring your loved one back or heal the emotional suffering that you and your family are enduring. However, a wrongful death claim can provide support to cover the financial damages that often result from the loss of a loved one. For example, when an individual dies, so does his or her future earning potential, which might be the only source of income a family has. A wrongful death claim in these cases can ensure that a surviving family has the financial support for the future that they lost with the death of their loved one.
Additional damages that a wrongful death claim can cover include:
- Medical bills related to the death
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of financial benefits including retirement and medical plans
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of goods and services
- Survivor’s emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of care, nurturing, and guidance
- Loss of consortium of a spouse
Wrongful death claims can be filed by a surviving spouse, domestic partner, or child. When none of these surviving family members exist, the claim can be filed by other dependents, stepchildren, or parents. Only one wrongful death lawsuit can be filed on behalf of a deceased, and any damages awarded will be distributed among beneficiaries in compliance with the deceased’s will, or according to state law.
Gain Knowledgeable and Compassionate Representation
To learn more about your unique case, call (619) 552-3407 to request a free consultation. We can meet with you and your family to discuss the details of a wrongful death claim and how we can help you recover financial support during this trying time. Our San Diego wrongful death attorneys at the McClellan Law Firm are passionate about guiding grieving families through the legal process as they search for support. As a highly acclaimed team of legal professionals, you can trust in our firm to fight for justice.