Death is a reality that people have become accustomed to but is always hard to accept. Moving on from a loved one’s death is challenging, especially if the cause was unexpected or avoidable.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there over 150,000 deaths caused by unintentional injuries in the US every year. As a result, unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death in the country.
On top of the emotional and psychological toll death causes, it may also result in financial struggles if the deceased was a breadwinner. This is why there are legal provisions for the bereaved can sue for compensation, designed to alleviate the effects of such financial burdens.
When filing a lawful death claim, one question that always seems to come up is, “How much is this case worth?” Have you lost a loved one recently due to unintentional injuries? Read on to find out more about wrongful death claims and how compensation is calculated.
What Is a Wrongful Death?
By definition, wrongful death is death caused by another party’s negligence or actions. In simple terms, it is a death that may not have occurred without the other party’s involvement, deliberate or otherwise. The culpable party may be an individual or institution.
What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a suit filed against an individual or institution whose negligence resulted in another person’s death. Such claims are often in pursuit of financial compensation and qualify as a civil action. However, criminal charges may also be filed separately.
When Do Wrongful Death Claims Apply?
One way of knowing whether you can file a wrongful death claim is considering whether the victim would have been eligible to file a personal injury suit had they survived the ordeal. There are many situations for which a wrongful death claim may be applicable.
1. When the Cause of Death Was Intentional
Unfortunately, there are people in this world who can take another person’s life deliberately. Data from Statista indicates that there were 16,214 homicide cases reported in the US in 2018. This depicts how serious this problem is.
In such cases where the defendant murdered the victim intentionally, a wrongful death claim is applicable.
2. Automobile Accidents
There are roughly six million car accidents in the US every year. As a result, millions more are injured, and 90 people die each day. Such statistics are saddening but what’s actually worse is that negligent drivers cause a significant proportion of such accidents.
If the results from investigations suggest that the culpable party was negligent behind the wheel, there are genuine grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Some of the actions that qualify as negligence while driving include:
- Disregarding traffic laws
- Driving recklessly
- Driving under the influence
3. Medical Malpractice
Healthcare facilities and practitioners play a crucial role in society. However, there are situations where their actions can lead to the death of patients. In fact, in recent years, medical malpractice has emerged as a major cause of death.
It is estimated that a quarter of a million people die from medical malpractice each year, making it one of the leading causes of death. Medical malpractice can come in many forms, such as:
- Misinterpreting or ignoring lab results
- Unnecessary surgeries
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Wrong medication or dosage
- Premature discharge
- Failure to take into account or disregarding patient history
- Poor follow-up or aftercare
- Failure to order necessary testing
Despite the high number of medical malpractice occurrences, lawsuits are only filed two percent of the time. For a case to qualify as medical malpractice, there must be:
- A violation of the standard of care required from healthcare providers
- Injuries or other health implications resulting from the negligence
- Significant damage resulting from the injury
4. Defective Products
There are millions of products available on the market for consumers to use for varying reasons. Manufacturers have the responsibility of ensuring that their products are safe for use. Any products with defects can put users at risk of injury or developing health problems.
If complications arising from the use of defective products result in death, there are legitimate grounds for filing a wrongful death claim.
What Needs to Be Proven for a Wrongful Death Case to Stand?
Wrongful death claims are a serious accusation that can damage the defendant’s reputation. Therefore, before damages can be issued, the burden of proof belongs to the plaintiff. There are key elements taken into consideration to determine whether a case qualifies as a wrongful death claim.
- Duty of Care – This means that the defendant was in a position where they owed the victim a legal or moral obligation to safeguard their wellbeing. This could be a driver who should act responsibly for the sake of other drivers and pedestrians or a doctor owing a duty of care to patients.
- Breach of Duty of Care – Once the duty of care has been established, the next course of action is to determine whether the defendant actually violated their duty.
- Causation – Even if the duty of care was present, and there was a violation, the plaintiff is still required to prove that breach that resulted in the victim’s death.
How Much Is a Wrongful Death Claim Worth?
Wrongful death claims can be filed against people in different capacities owing varying levels of duty of care to victims. Also, even if there is a breach of duty, it may not be the singular cause of death. Such factors, along with the challenge of placing monetary value on a life, make it difficult to determine how much a claim is worth.
Even if the type of wrongful death claim is the same, each case is unique and will have varying compensations. Therefore, the value of your claim depends on the circumstances. In some cases, compensation can be worth millions of dollars, whereas in others, it can be as low as $1,000.
Types of Damages Awarded in Wrongful Death Claims
When awarding settlements for wrongful death cases, judges factor in economic and non-economic damages the plaintiff has incurred due to the defendant’s actions. Some of the damages you may be eligible for when filing your wrongful death suit include:
- Outstanding medical bills for the illness or accident that led to the untimely death of the deceased
- The deceased lost wages and potential future earnings
- Value of lost benefits such as pensions
- Funeral costs
- Lost inheritance
- The deceased’s pain and suffering before death
- The pain and suffering survivors have gone through
- Punitive damages if the defendant acted deliberately
How Wrongful Death Damages Are Determined
Placing a monetary value on a life or the loss and anguish survivors have gone through is next to impossible. However, there are some factors considered when determining the amount to be awarded as compensation.
Though there is no specific amount awarded for each type of damage, you can use them to get a rough estimate of how much your wrongful death claim is worth. Such factors include:
- Past earnings
- The life expectancy of the deceased
- Potential future earnings
- The level of the deceased’s contribution to the home
Why You Need Wrongful Death Attorney?
Ordinarily, wrongful death claims are filed by the representative of the victim’s estate on behalf of the survivors. Though qualifying survivors vary from state to state, the following are eligible across the board:
- Spouse of the deceased
- Parents of the deceased, if they were minors
- Children (still minors) of the deceased
The variations in the statute of limitations vary in different states in relation to whether:
- Siblings can file a wrongful death claim
- Adult children can file due to the death of their parent
- Relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins can file for compensation
In Florida, qualifying survivors in wrongful death claims include:
- Children (children under 25 years qualify for higher compensation)
- Parents of the deceased
It is only after these primary beneficiaries have had their chance at seeking compensation that other relatives can have a chance to file.
After losing a loved one, it may be challenging to follow up with such a claim. Hiring a wrongful death lawyer has the following benefits:
1. They Understand the Legal Process
The process of filing a wrongful death claim is long and tedious, especially if you are unfamiliar with it. Any mistakes made during this process can hamper your chances of getting the compensation you deserve. Wrongful death attorneys know this process and will ensure everything is done as and when needed. This, in turn, will save you a lot of stress and time.
2. They Can Determine the Value of Your Claim
With experience in handling wrongful death claims, lawyers can analyze your case objectively and determine your claim’s value. With such information, you will know whether the case is worth pursuing or not.
Always Go for the Best
The support and assistance of a wrongful death attorney are invaluable. However, it is not just about having a lawyer by your side. You must make sure that the lawyer you choose will give your case the attention it needs and that they have the necessary experience and a proven track record.
Shiner Law Group is specialized in wrongful death claims and has a team of experienced and dedicated lawyers ready to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today for a free consultation.