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How Much is My Wrongful Death Case Worth?

If a loved one died due to the negligence or harmful intent of another person or entity, you and other surviving heirs may be able to bring a wrongful death suit. Common wrongful death situations include DUI and medical malpractice cases. Putting a price on the life of another human being, especially one whom you love, is impossible, but the law allows for certain damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. Possible compensation claims vary from state to state but may include medical bills, lost income, and other items associated with the person's death, such as funeral expenses.

Wrongful Death Defined

A death resulting from a breach of law is legally considered a wrongful death. This typically falls under the category of negligence, as taking reasonable care to protect our fellow citizens is considered a civic duty. The most obvious example is driving, where our duty to exercise caution while behind the wheel is accepted and understood.

Other examples of wrongful death include medical malpractice, workplace accidents, product liability, and intentional criminal acts. In the last instance, the defendant typically faces both civil and criminal charges resulting from his or her actions.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Suit?

As with most civil lawsuit questions, there is some variation from state to state regarding who may file a wrongful death claim. However, all states allow the spouse of the deceased to make a wrongful death claim, as well as the parents of minor children. Additionally, minor children may collect upon the wrongful death of a parent. Once children reach adulthood, states begin to disagree about parents' right to sue and offspring's right to sue. The waters become even murkier as familial relationships grow more distant, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Some states allow a suit to be filed by the deceased's life partner.

Typically, the victim's representative, agent, or executor (if one is named in a legal will) files a wrongful death suit on behalf of the deceased survivors and/or heirs.

What Damages May be Claimed in a Wrongful Death Suit?

Numerous factors influence what damages you may claim in a wrongful death suit. These include harm or loss suffered now and in the future, the strength of evidence, degree of fault, and witness credibility. Again, variations from state to state make this question difficult to answer. Most states allow economic damages such as funeral expenses and lost income or financial support, as well as non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.

Some states consider prospective inheritance claims while others consider the deceased's total lifetime earning capacity. Many consider non-economic damages like loss of companionship, though some of the states that permit these claims place caps on allowable amounts.

These calculations quickly become confusing, especially with economic damages including items such as pensions and lifetime earnings. If you decide to hire an attorney, look for one experienced in handling wrongful death cases in your area. This generally means he or she is familiar with the local court system, not just your state's laws. This type of background can be invaluable when arguing a civil case.

Do Wrongful Death Suits Typically Settle Out of Court?

Most wrongful death cases never go to trial, as defense attorneys rarely wish to risk a jury verdict, which generally awards higher amounts than settlements, thanks to the emotional witness testimony of survivors. Even in states with financial caps on lawsuits, defense attorneys typically settle rather than risk going to trial. Settlement amounts vary dramatically, but if the family can prove another person or entity's negligence caused the death, settlement amounts are much higher.

Going to Court for a Wrongful Death Case

If the case goes to trial, both plaintiff and defendant present evidence in front of a jury. Before deliberations, the judge describes state laws surrounding wrongful death. In deliberations, jurors' first duty is deciding the defendant's culpability in the deceased's death. If they consider the defendant responsible, then they move to awarding damages using the proofs and evidence presented during the trial.

Schedule a Free Wrongful Death Case Consultation

If you lost a loved one due to neglect or intentional harm and believe you have a viable wrongful death lawsuit, take advantage of the free initial consultation offered by most wrongful death attorneys. He or she advises you on the viability of your case, laws as they pertain to your state, and the potential value of your case. Arrive prepared with a list of questions, writing materials, and all pertinent documentation regarding your case.

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