What is a wrongful death claim? | Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp

A wrongful death claim is a legal action brought forth by the surviving family members or beneficiaries of a deceased individual who died as a result of another party’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional actions. Such claims aim to seek justice for the tragic loss of a loved one and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. In this article, we will explore the key aspects of a wrongful death claim, including who can file, the elements required to establish liability, and the types of damages that may be recovered.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

The right to file a wrongful death claim typically rests with immediate family members or beneficiaries of the deceased. This commonly includes the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased individual. If the deceased had a will or estate plan, the designated personal representative or executor may initiate the claim on behalf of the beneficiaries.

Establishing Liability in a Wrongful Death Claim

For a wrongful death claim to be successful, certain elements must be established:

  • Duty of care: The claimant must show that the responsible party owed a duty of care to the deceased. For example, a driver has a duty of care to follow traffic rules and drive safely.
  • Breach of duty: It must be proven that the responsible party breached their duty of care, acting negligently, recklessly, or intentionally. This could include actions such as drunk driving, medical malpractice, or failure to maintain safe premises.
  • Causation: The breach of duty must be directly linked to the death of the individual. In other words, the negligent actions of the responsible party must have been the primary cause of the fatal incident.
  • Damages: The wrongful death claim must demonstrate that the deceased person’s death resulted in damages, such as financial losses, funeral expenses, and emotional suffering, for the surviving family members.

Types of Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

Wrongful death claims seek to compensate the surviving family members for the losses they have suffered due to the death of their loved one. Some of the typical damages that may be recovered in a wrongful death claim include:

  • Economic damages: These encompass quantifiable financial losses, including medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of future income, and loss of benefits that the deceased would have provided.
  • Non-Economic damages: Non-economic damages are more subjective and may include compensation for emotional pain, loss of companionship, loss of guidance, and mental anguish experienced by the surviving family members.
  • Punitive damages: In cases where the responsible party’s actions were particularly egregious or intentional, punitive damages may be awarded to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future.

Statute of Limitations

It is essential to be aware of the statute of limitations for filing a wrongful death claim, as it varies by jurisdiction. The statute of limitations sets a time limit within which a claim must be filed. If the claim is not filed within this period, the right to seek compensation may be forfeited.