Should You File a Wrongful Death Suit for your Deceased Spouse?

File a Wrongful Death Suit

Death is a complicated matter, regardless of the circumstances. But when you layer on an accident and/or negligence, it becomes even more difficult to work through and process (legally, emotionally, and financially).

If you believe your spouse’s death was due to someone else’s actions, you may consider filing a wrongful death suit.

What is a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death is a civil suit in which a plaintiff seeks monetary damages for the death of a loved one. In the suit, the plaintiff makes the claim that the deceased individual died as a result of someone else’s negligence. Generally, the plaintiff must provide the following elements:

  • Duty of care. The plaintiff is required to prove that the defendant owed a “duty of care” to the deceased individual. Take a car accident, for example. The plaintiff has to prove that the defendant had a duty of care to obey the rules of the road (e.g.  obeying traffic lights and speed limits).
  • Breach of duty of care. With duty of care established, the plaintiff must prove the defendant breached such (e.g. running a red light while going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit).
  • Causation. Finally, with it established that there was a duty of care owed to the plaintiff (and that it was breached), it must be shown that the breach caused/contributed to the death of the deceased individual.

For example, it’s not enough to show that the driver ran a red light at 20 MPH over the speed limit. The plaintiff must also show that the driver’s reckless behavior caused the deceased individual to meet his demise.

The plaintiff is required to meet the “burden of proof” in order to obtain a successful verdict. While each state has different rules for what the burden of proof is, the onus is always on the plaintiff.

“Some states instruct juries to determine whether it is ‘more likely than not’ that the Defendant caused the deceased’s death,” Nolo explains. “The Burden of Proof in a civil case is much lower than in a criminal case, where the typical standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’”

Most wrongful death suits are resolved with settlements before a trial ever happens; however, you must always be prepared for a wrongful death suit to go to the courtroom.

How to File a Wrongful Death Suit

If you feel like you have a reasonable claim that your loved one’s death was a wrongful death, you have the ability to bring forth a suit. Here are some suggestions:

Consider the Costs

The first step is to work through the costs and damages associated with the wrongful death. The higher these figures are, the more worthwhile it is to pursue a lawsuit.

There are several types of damages that a spouse may seek in a wrongful death suit. They include:

  • Medical costs: Including medical expenses incurred from the time of the accident/injury up until the victim’s death.
  • Lost income: This may include both the lost income when the deceased individual was in the hospital and the loss of future expected earnings. (For example, someone who is 30 years old making $100,000 per year with expected income growth of 7 percent annually, can receive a payout of millions based on this factor alone.)
  • Lost benefits: If the victim had a pension or some other benefits in place, the spouse may also be able to claim them as damages in the suit.
  • Burial and funeral expenses: The spouse is able to seek compensation for reasonable expenses associated with a burial, cremation, funeral, etc.
  • Loss of consortium: This refers to the physical relationship the spouses shared and no longer get to enjoy as a result of the death.
  • Loss of companionship: This is similar to the loss of consortium, but refers to the intangible damage and emotional impact it has caused.

Hire a Lawyer

Don’t try to file a wrongful death lawsuit on your own. You need an experienced wrongful death attorney on your side. This attorney will help you do a few key things. To start, they’ll let you know if you have a reasonable claim. If you do, they’ll work with you to gather evidence and build a strong case. From there, your attorney will negotiate with the defendant’s legal team to reach a reasonable settlement. If no settlement can be reached, they’ll represent you in a court case.

Find Expert Witnesses

It’s important that you don’t just have cold, hard numbers. It’s also very powerful to have expert witnesses on your side to help shape your case and give it some strength and credibility. Work with your attorney to begin gathering these names as soon as possible.

Making an Educated Decision

Choosing to file a wrongful death suit isn’t something you should take lightly. Not only does it stir up the raw emotions of what happened to you and your family, but it’s also a serious allegation that directly involves and implicates someone else.

Make sure you meet with an attorney and carefully consider each element of the case to ensure you’re doing the right thing. A disciplined approach will serve you well in the long run.

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