What Is the Meaning of Wrongful Death?

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In simplest terms, wrongful death is the death of a person due to another party’s wrongful actions. The term is generally used concerning a civil cause of action brought about by family members of the deceased. If someone were to die as the result of someone else’s misconduct, the death could be seen as wrongful, thereby opening up the possibility for children or a spouse to seek damages through a wrongful death claim. One of the most well-known wrongful death cases of recent history would probably be that of O.J. Simpsons brought about by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. 

What Constitutes Wrongful Death?

For any wrongful death claim to be considered valid, four elements must often be present:

  1. Breach of duty: The other party must owe some level of duty to the deceased individual, as would be the case for a death resulting from nursing home neglect, the failure to obey traffic laws, or unsafe product design — among a host of other situations. 
  2. Negligence: The proof is necessary that the death of the individual was caused at least in part by the other party’s negligent behavior, carelessness, misconduct, or recklessness.
  3. Causation: Causation is essentially the link between the individual’s death and the wrongful actions of the other party. 
  4. Damages: The death of the individual would also need to cause quantifiable damages to the spouse, children, and so on of the deceased, such as pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of potential earnings, medical expenses, and even burial costs. 

Though the burden of proof is generally lower for civil cases, the onus will still be on the individual bringing about the wrongful death claim to provide convincing evidence for each of these four elements. It’s always best to consult with an attorney for wrongful death claims before taking action to file a lawsuit. 

What Are the Most Common Wrongful Death Cases?

With the number of drivers on the road these days, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the wrongful death car accident has quickly become one of the most common wrongful death claims brought to the courts. However, many other wrongful death examples are worth mentioning, including:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Medication interactions
  • Birth injuries
  • Product defects
  • Mislabeled ingredients
  • Occupational hazards
  • Occupational exposure
  • Occupational accidents
  • Property owner negligence
  • Service provider negligence 
  • Unsupervised activities
  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Criminal actions (i.e., shootings, stabbings, etc.)

Other incidents may also fall within the category of wrongful death. Again, it’s important to consult with an attorney if you’re unsure about the liability involved with an individual’s death.

Who Can File Wrongful Death Cases?

The party who can file a wrongful death claim will depend mainly on the state where you reside, as laws vary significantly across the country. In some areas, it’s just the immediate family members who can bring about such a lawsuit. In other areas, it could be an individual receiving a certain amount of financial support — which could include a domestic partner, especially when that individual has been named as a personal representative in the estate plan. 

In Virginia, the people that can file a wrongful death claim include the surviving spouse and children/grandchildren, parents or siblings, relatives who lived with or dependent on the deceased, and family members with a claim to inheritance from the deceased. 

As expected, the settlement amount will vary from one case to the next. Various factors go into the settlement beyond direct “costs,” like medical bills, loss of income, loss of potential earnings, and funeral expenses. Pain and suffering, for example, will often be of chief concern when calculating how much a plaintiff is due. Generally speaking, what’s known as the “Multiplier” method is commonly used, where the judge or jury multiplies the economic damages by a variable of anywhere between 1.5 and 5 — 5 being applied in the most serious of cases. 

However, some states have a cap on “non-economic” damages, which is where pain and suffering would fall. In these instances, the plaintiffs are typically but not consistently awarding the cap in addition to the direct economic damages should they win their wrongful death cases. Again, it all varies from case to point. Even similar cases will have different outcomes. It’s difficult to predict how everything will play out. 

If you’d like more information or are uncertain whether carelessness, recklessness, misconduct, or neglect has led to the death of a family member, please don’t hesitate to contact Huffman & Huffman Brothers-n-Law. One of our attorneys would be more than willing to sit down with you and discuss your case at a time and place that is convenient for you. We can take some of the stress away while you and your loved ones focus on what is most important, being with your family during this time of grief. 

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