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What Is Wrongful Death?

Shunnarah legal experts answer “What is wrongful death?” and more common questions about wrongful death claims.

When someone dies or is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another, their loved ones can sometimes sue for a “wrongful death.”

A wrongful death lawsuit seeks to compensate the families of wrongful death victims for their loss and costs like lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and burial expenses.

What’s a Wrongful Death Claim?

Loved ones file wrongful death claims on behalf of a deceased person. It’s a type of lawsuit that can be filed when a person dies due to someone else’s legal fault. They can involve all types of fatal accidents, everything from a car accident to medical malpractice to product liability. People, companies, and government agencies can all be found negligent and responsible for the death of another person.

Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

To create a compelling case after someone has wrongfully passed, the following elements must be present:

  • A deceased person
  • Their death was caused by another’s negligence or with intent to cause harm
  • Surviving family members are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death
  • A personal representative for the decedent’s estate

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Claims

While there are many causes for these tragic accidents, some of the more common causes of a wrongful death claim include:

  • Birth injuries
  • Medical malpractice
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Occupational hazards
  • Occupation exposure
  • Product defects
  • Premises accidents
  • Nursing home accidents
  • Abuse and neglect at assisted living or nursing home facilities
  • Criminal actions such as stabbings, shootings, or other violence

Claims must be filed within the statute of limitations, but they can sometimes be filed later using the ‘discovery rule’ if the cause of action wasn’t determined until later.

Man learns wife died in a fatal accident.

Who Can Sue?

A suit for wrongful death is brought by a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Most states allow a surviving spouse, immediate family members, children, and even parents of a deceased fetus to sue for wrongful death.

Every state has its own civil statutes that establish the procedures for bringing forth legal actions.

The personal representative can also bring actions for personal injury, pain and suffering, and expenses incurred before the decedent’s death. The damages awarded from these actions belong to the estate and are distributed to different parties as directed by the decedent’s will.

Types of Damages

Wrongful death lawsuits include economic damages as well as non-economic damages. Punitive damages may also be awarded. Every state has different rules for what damages a plaintiff can seek. Damage awards in wrongful death settlements include:

  • Pain and suffering damages for emotional or physical turmoil
  • Loss of income and financial support
  • Loss of protection
  • Loos of the prospect of inheritance
  • Funeral/burial costs and expenses
  • Medical expenses, both for the medical care of the deceased and any other injured parties in the same accident
  • Loss of companionship, particularly for spouses
  • Loss of inheritance

Some states cap the damages a party may receive for pain and suffering, while some won’t.

Statute of Limitations

Each state sets its statute of limitations, or time limits, for filing this type of lawsuit. Most states give you two to four years from the incident that led to the victim’s death to file a wrongful death action, but the statute of limitations could be as short as one year or longer than four years in certain situations.

There are also exceptions for minors who generally have three years from their 18th birthday to file a wrongful death action.

It’s always in your best interest to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after a fatal accident.

The sooner you begin the investigation, the better your chances of finding clear evidence of neglect or wrongdoing.


Call for a free case evaluation, 24/7.

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