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What Does a Wrongful Death Attorney Do?

A wrongful death is defined as a death that occurs after another party’s negligent or intentionally harmful actions. Qualified family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court, and a wrongful death lawyer handles the case. The attorney seeks justice for the plaintiffs, pursuing compensation on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.

Often, the attorney is also a personal injury lawyer who can file a claim for the losses a claimant experiences due to a loved one’s death. Generally, these lawsuits are combined into a single lawsuit. An experienced wrongful death attorney handles multiple types of wrongful death lawsuits.

Here is some insight on what cases qualify for wrongful death claims, who can file one, and how an attorney can help.

The Different Types of Wrongful Death Cases

Any fatality due to someone else’s negligence or willful acts can lead to a wrongful death case. However, some types of accidents or incidents are more common than others.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Fatal car accidents are one of the primary reasons people file a wrongful death case. In 2021, an estimated 42,915 people died in a car accident. Most of these crashes likely involved a negligent driver. Traffic fatalities can occur to vehicle occupants, motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians.

Slip-and-Fall Accidents

Slip-and-fall accidents led to 850 workplace fatalities in 2021. Though these deaths occur most often in the workplace, they can happen to anyone. It is a wrongful death when they happen on a third party’s property and due to another individual’s negligence.

Medical Malpractice

Unfortunately, too many people die at the hands of a medical practitioner charged with providing care and healing them. A medical error leads to a patient’s death in an estimated 250,000 clinical setting fatalities every year. Only a fraction of these results in medical malpractice cases, though many of them likely qualify.

Defective Products

Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure their products are safe for consumers. The manufacturer is often liable for a death when a defective, faulty, or damaged product causes a fatal accident.

Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

Immediate family members often have a lot of trepidation placing a loved one in a nursing facility, and with good reason. Nursing home staff are often overworked, underpaid, and don’t always have the necessary skills. Deaths from physical abuse or neglect are not uncommon. In some cases, the facility and its employees may be the responsible party in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Murder and Manslaughter

A violent, intentional act such as murder and manslaughter also counts as a wrongful death action. This is a criminal act, and a wrongful death suit often coincides with a criminal case. A civil lawsuit is separate from the criminal one.

The Difference Between a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and a Personal Injury Lawsuit

People are often confused about the difference between a wrongful death claim and a personal injury one. A wrongful death lawsuit occurs when the person who dies could have filed a personal injury case had they survived. When plaintiffs file a wrongful death lawsuit, they file on behalf of the deceased.

The Family Members Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim

Though many of those close to the deceased person suffer from the loss when the person dies, not everyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The only ones who can typically file a claim are the following:

  • The personal representative of the deceased’s estate
  • The surviving spouse
  • Any surviving children
  • Surviving family members such as parents or siblings when there is no spouse or children

If more than one family member has a right to seek a wrongful death settlement, a wrongful death attorney combines the legal action for all of them into one lawsuit.

The Recoverable Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

There are three types of wrongful death damages: economic, noneconomic, and punitive.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are those with a direct, measurable financial impact. Financial damages include the following:

  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills

Wrongful death attorneys may also seek financial compensation on behalf of claimants for the financial burden they experience from their family member’s death.

Noneconomic Damages

Wrongful death claims often involve noneconomic damages. This type of financial compensation is for damages that are harder to calculate. They do not have an associated measurable dollar amount. A wrongful death lawyer may seek compensation for the victim’s pain and suffering before death. A family member may recover monetary damages for mental anguish, lost parental companionship, loss of consortium, and loss of emotional support.

Punitive Damages

Sometimes the court will award punitive damages, but this does not occur for all wrongful deaths. Instead, it is reserved for cases involving egregious or willful acts, such as when a drunk driver causes a victim’s death. These damages don’t compensate plaintiffs for a loss; instead, they punish the negligent party for the nature of their wrongdoing.

The Ways Wrongful Death Attorneys Can Help

A wrongful death attorney can help loved ones seek justice for the deceased. Wrongful death cases are often complex, requiring in-depth legal knowledge, an understanding of the court system, and experience handling various wrongful death cases.

Offer Advice and Explain Rights

Before filing a wrongful death lawsuit, wrongful death lawyers often assess a case to determine whether it has merit and whether the claimants have a right to file. They can explain the family’s and deceased’s legal rights and offer advice on how to proceed. Throughout the process, the attorneys also protect claimants’ legal rights.

Investigate the Incident

A wrongful death lawyer investigates the incident that led to the death. Investigations often involve gathering medical records, talking to witnesses, obtaining police reports, interviewing professionals and relevant experts, hiring accident deconstructionists, and obtaining videos and images of an accident scene. For a medical malpractice case, lawyers may look into the clinician’s background, training, work history, and experience.

Prove Guilt

The unexpected death of a loved one is always difficult for survivors, but a fatal accident isn’t always the result of a wrongful act. To win a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must have evidence proving that the other party’s negligent or willful actions directly or indirectly led to the victim’s death. Proving negligence requires proof of the following:

  • Duty of care: The other party was legally responsible for taking the same care a reasonable person would for another’s safety under the same circumstances.
  • Breach of duty: The other party failed in this duty.
  • Causation: The failure to uphold the duty of care led to the harmful event
  • Injury: The damaging event resulted in death for the victim.

All four elements must be present to prove fault in a wrongful death claim.

Calculate Damages

A wrongful death attorney also calculates losses, from medical expenses to pain and suffering. The lawyer understands what the law allows when adding damages for a settlement, including calculating noneconomic losses.

Seek Compensation

Wrongful death lawyers help the family sue the liable party to recover compensation for the victim and those left behind. They negotiate a settlement with the defense. Though a wrongful death claim usually settles out of court, the attorney handling the case represents the plaintiffs if the case goes to trial.

File on Time

The staff at a law firm ensures that all paperwork is completed accurately and completely. When filing a suit, plaintiffs must justify their claim, including providing the laws that support their accusations of negligence.

Furthermore, plaintiffs must file on time. The wrongful death statute of limitations is the legal time limit for filing a lawsuit. In most states, the deadline is two years from the day of death.

We urge anyone who has lost a loved one due to another’s negligence to talk to a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible. If the deadline passes, there is no other option for obtaining justice through a civil claim.