For many people it’s the worst thing that they can possibly imagine: having a loved one tragically taken from them in the prime of their lives. This can occur in a myriad of ways, but when it happens due to the actions of another person or persons, then it can couple the feelings of grief and loss with those of anger and despair. If someone has wrongfully caused the death of a loved one, there is a means of seeking justice in civil court—the wrongful death suit. This is a complicated and involved process, but it is one of the surest ways to gain restitution for your loss and justice for your lost loved one.
What is a wrongful death?
A wrongful death is when someone is killed by another person or persons either through the negligence of those individuals or through their intentional actions or conduct. This can include a variety of negligent actions including medical malpractice, auto fatalities, or criminal attacks (which can also be prosecuted under criminal law). In order for a death to be considered wrongful, the action leading to a person’s death must be either negligent or intentional. Under this guideline, a person who murders someone could also be sued for wrongful death but not if the person intentionally killed someone in self-defense.
Specific examples of wrongful death claims
Although the types of wrongful death suits are wide and varied, there are some very common examples that are seen time and time again. These include:
• Car accidents—This can be where a person is killed due to the negligent driving of another. Negligent driving could include speeding, texting while driving, and drinking and driving.
• Defective products—This could include, for example, a company that knowingly manufactured defective car brakes which then leads to a car crash with fatalities. It can also cover other defective products including tainted food, toxic substances such as asbestos or lead based paint, and medicines that injure people with dangerous side effects.
• Medical malpractice—Another very common form of wrongful death suits, a medical fatality could be caused by a careless doctor who either mishandled a surgical procedure or who completely misdiagnosed a fatal illness.
• Unsafe premises/work conditions—This is a two-fold area, although closely related. If a landlord does not maintain the property or provide security in a common area, then he can be responsible for fatalities caused by his negligence. Likewise, a business owner who sends his employees into unsafe working conditions could be held liable if they die during the course of their work.
• Suicide—In some extreme cases, a person who fails to follow through with a standard of care could be held responsible if the person in their care commits suicide. This is especially true for therapists and doctors.
What happens in a wrongful death suit?
Wrongful death lawsuits are very long and complicated affairs that often take place in offices instead of courtrooms. This is not the dramatic court case that you see on a TV drama or movie with screaming attorneys and histrionic testimony from surprise witnesses. The claim can actually often be negotiated by attorneys without having to go to trial at all. However, should the suit move forward, it will follow a general pattern including:
• Filing the lawsuit. Once a lawsuit is filed in court and the defendants are notified, they usually have about 30 days to reply to the lawsuit including providing an outline of their defense;
• Discovery. The discovery period is where evidence is gathered by both sides including interviews and formal depositions as well as the exchange of documents.
• Pre-Trial motions. These are argued before a judge and may be about formalizing what evidence can and cannot be presented during the actual trial.
• Trial/Appeal. A plaintiff can opt for either a jury trial or one to be decided by a judge. Even when the verdict is issued, the trial is not over as the defendant has the right to appeal the decision to a higher court. This can continue the process for several years as the case is retried.
• Collection of damages—The final step is to actually collect the damages from the defendant. This may also be a complicated process as it may be necessary to seize assets from the defendant including savings or property.
We Can Help!
Many people may question whether they should bring a wrongful death suit because it will ultimately not bring back the loved one they’ve lost. But it can provide you with the compensation and financial security that you may lack from this personal loss. The attorneys of Wolf & Pravato are here to assist you during this difficult and trying experience.