What You Didn’t Know About Wrongful Death Suits

by Ladyblogger on February 8, 2013

When a person dies at the hands of another, the decedent’s family may be left with significant financial obligations, a loss of income, and a loss of consortium. If the death was due to a wrongful, or unlawful, act, the family may be eligible to recover damages. Wrongful death is a cause of action that arises when a death results due to the wrongful act of another person. Unfortunately, quite a few misconceptions surround wrongful death lawsuits.

Wrongful Death Is Not Like Other Causes of Action

Unlike other tort actions, a cause of action for wrongful death was not created by the court system. At common law, only the injured party had standing to sue for his or her injury. If the injuries caused by another person’s negligence, battery, or other tortious act were so severe that the victim died, recovery options were highly limited. After all, dead people cannot sue. As a result, states passed laws permitting other people to sue on behalf of the decedent if the victim’s death resulted from another person’s wrongful act. There are many law firms, such as Stokes & Kopitsky, which specialize in wrongful death suits.

This is important due to the fact that the statutes vary between states. Most conventional torts have very similar elements between jurisdictions, although courts may apply similar rules in a different manner. In a lawsuit for wrongful death, state statutes will permit different plaintiffs to bring the action and permit recovery for different types of damages. This can dramatically affect the outcome of the case or the ability of the plaintiff to sue in the first place. States differ on whether the state .

Wrongful Death Does Not Require a Showing of Criminal Liability

Grieving family members occasionally ask whether the fact that the defendant was not arrested after the death will preclude recovery. Civil actions for wrongful death are conducted separately from any criminal ramifications. A conviction of a crime in relation to the death may be beneficial in proving that the defendant’s engagement in a wrongful act caused the death, but it is not necessary to recover damages.

An accident may be criminally excusable without being civilly excusable. The burden of proof in a civil case is different; criminal cases require proof beyond a reasonable doubt while civil cases involve a showing beyond a preponderance of the evidence. Evidence that is not sufficient to support a criminal conviction may be sufficient to support a civil judgment. Additionally, a wrongful death lawsuit requires only a wrongful act, not a felony or a misdemeanor. For example, a person who runs a red light and causes a death may not be charged with vehicular manslaughter. However, that person caused a death due to a wrongful act. Thus, that person can incur civil liability.

Wrongful Death Payouts Are Highly Variable

If the plaintiff can prove that the decedent died as a result of the defendant’s wrongful act, the plaintiff must prove the damages within a reasonable degree of certainty. Compensation for wrongful death suits is usually limited to a loss of income and consortium. Proving a loss of income or consortium will be much easier if the individual was gainfully employed and was close to the family. If the decedent earned a high income, extrapolating the annual income into the years that he or she would have lived but for the defendant’s wrongful conduct is a simple affair. This will result in larger damages.

In contrast, if the deceased person was a younger individual with minimal family ties and no employment, then proving either a loss of consortium or income will be difficult. Such damages would be highly speculative; even if a jury was to award millions of dollars in damages to a decedent’s family members, the defendant may get the award reduced on appeal. The cost of litigation and the inherent uncertainty will compel both parties to settle early for a relatively low amount.

One study analyzed over 1,000 premises liability cases from 1992 to 2001 and determined that the average settlement for a wrongful death case was approximately $2.8 million. However, statistics regarding settlements for wrongful death lawsuits may be misleading. As with all cases, the individual circumstances surrounding the incident, the nature of the defendant, and the various aspects of the defendant’s life will affect the award.

Wrongful deaths can be intentional or result from simple negligence. Defendants may be individual criminals, otherwise normal citizens who made a deadly mistake, businesses with improper security precautions, and even police departments and municipalities with improper procedures. Anyone with a family member killed under unlawful circumstances should contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation.

Anthony Joseph is a freelance author who enjoys writing about important legal issues, and contributes this article for the purpose of educating others on the subject of wrongful death. Stokes & Kopitsky is an Atlanta based firm with over 30 years of experience representing family members who have lost a loved one due to the actions of another person. Their legal team will help to aggressively negotiate the best recovery possible to help your family get back on their feet.

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