Some of the services personal injury attorneys can provide for their clients are well known. This is the type of lawyer that you want on your side as you deal with the aftermath of a car accident. Or perhaps a vicious dog attack. Or even an accident that happens at work. But another area in which this type of attorney can provide assistance is in what is known as a wrongful death.
Death is inevitable for all of us. But what are known as wrongful deaths are usually preventable tragedies. In addition to the grief and loss experienced by the decedent’s survivors, because of the unexpected nature of this type of passing, financial hardship is often the result as well. However, an experienced personal injury lawyer may be able to help these survivors recoup funeral costs, living expenses, future earnings, and more.
What Is Considered A Wrongful Death?
Although the ability to sue another party for a wrongful death is relatively new, all fifty states now have some type of a wrongful death law on their books. The general legal definition of wrongful death is a situation when a fatality is caused by a party with a legal responsibility. For example, if a driver causes a car accident resulting in a fatality, and investigation reveals that the driver was speeding while arguing with his girl friend on his cell phone, than that driver well could be charged with wrongful death. Criteria looked at in determining wrongful death includes, “Could this death have been prevented if the party (or parties) at fault had exercised due diligence, and shown an abundance of care?” Or, “Did the party know that his/her/its actions would have consequences that would or could result in death, and proceeded with them anyway?” Parties not directly responsible for a fatality may also be sued for wrongful death. Examples here would include owners of establishments that serve alcohol, or a business that hired dangerous employees without doing background checks.
Who Can Be Sued For Wrongful Death?
In addition to the scenarios described above, various government agencies, medical professionals, “entertainment venues”, the hospitality industry, and many others can be sued for wrongful death.
Who Is Exempt From Wrongful Death Lawsuits?
There are some cases in which wrongful death suits cannot be brought against a party or parties responsible for a fatality. Such exemptions often concern government agencies under certain circumstances, such as a branch of the military in times of war. Federal laws were recently loosened to protect railroad companies in cases of collisions, or individuals on tracks or other restricted areas. The manufacturers of some types of medical devices are exempt, as are some drug makers against misuse or overuse of a product, even when it’s not deliberate on the decedent’s part.
Who Are The Plaintiffs In A Wrongful Death Suit?
Known as the “real parties of interest”, plaintiffs in such a suit can be spouses, siblings, children, business partners, etc. They are anyone who is directly impacted by the loss of a decedent, and “real parties of interest” are often the ones who suffer financial hardship as a result of this loss. Parents may also file wrongful death suits in the case of children. Some states allow this type of lawsuit to be filed for the loss of unborn children as well.
Who Should Represent Survivors In A Wrongful Death Suit?
Wrongful death suits are filed by a representative of the “real parties of interest”, often by the executor of the decedent’s estate. It’s recommended that an attorney do this filing. Attorneys specializing in personal injury law are particularly experienced with this type of case.
Suits that can be categorized as “wrongful death” can vary from state to state, so it’s important that a lawyer knowledgeable about this criteria represent survivors. This type of suit has a statute of limitations. While this again can vary from state to state, in general, this window for filing only lasts from two to three years. A lawyer can make sure that motions are filed in a timely manner, in addition to taking care of all of the paperwork that accompanies this process.
Defendants in a wrongful death suit are usually well-represented by lawyers and insurance companies, none of whom want their clients to be found guilty. Survivors trying to deal directly with them are often overwhelmed and end up with small or no settlements. An experienced lawyer can deal with these individuals for clients, often negotiating a far better outcome.
Despite what’s seen on television shows, no one wants a courtroom trial unless absolutely necessary, preferring to work towards a settlement. The right lawyer can be invaluable here as well, helping clients fight for an amount that is right and just, and knowing when to accept an offered amount. So although no amount of money will ever replace the life that has been lost, working with the right attorney will insure not only financial security for survivors, but may protect others from being placed in the same tragic situation.