When you’ve lost a loved one due to someone else’s reckless actions, your world comes crashing down around you. You not only have a need for financial help, but a desire for closure and justice. A wrongful death lawsuit can help, and an experienced wrongful death lawyer at Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law, can be your compassionate guide through this legal process.
We are a national law firm based in Houston with multiple offices around the country. We also work with affiliate law firms in most states that share our focus on client-first compassion and our dedication to excellence. No matter where you’re located, we want to help. Contact us now – we’re open 24/7 and ready to give you a 100% FREE case evaluation. Call 800-898-4877 or CLICK HERE to submit your case for review.
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What Is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death is defined as the death of a human being that results from the actions of someone else. There are many situations that can lead to a wrongful death, such as:
- Negligence: Negligence refers to the failure to uphold the duty of care and consideration that one individual owes to another. For an example, if a motor vehicle accident was caused by someone who was speeding and it results in the death of an occupant in another car, the speeding driver will likely be considered liable because they neglected to follow traffic laws and operate their vehicle in a safe manner.
- Intentional acts: Intentional acts are those that sought to injure the person on purpose, such as an assault and battery that resulted in a death.
- A death that results from the commission of another crime: An example of this would be if a person was evading police after committing a crime and caused a motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of another driver.
No matter the situation, if a wrongful death occurs, the family members of the deceased may have cause to file a wrongful death action (also known as a wrongful death claim, or a wrongful death lawsuit). This is a civil action in which the at-fault party is held liable for expenses and impacts that the death has had on the deceased’s loved ones. In many states, the element needed to establish whether a wrongful death has occurred is whether the deceased would have had cause to file a personal injury claim against the defendant they had survived.
Some accidents that may result in a wrongful death include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and aircraft. Family members of pedestrians or bicyclists who were killed by the driver of a motor vehicle also fall into this category.
- Medical malpractice, such as medication errors, surgical errors, failure to diagnose, misdiagnosis, birth injury, wrongful discharge from the hospital, or failure to provide appropriate after-care. We trust doctors with our lives – if there is a mistake or oversight in their field, they must be held accountable in order to prevent the harm of future patients.
- Defective products that may have caused an accident that led to an individual’s death, such as malfunctioning vehicle parts, appliances, or medications that contain a harmful ingredient or cause an undisclosed reaction. Manufacturers have a responsibility to issue a recall for fault products like these.
- Premises liability, which is the failure of a property owner to correct known hazards. Some examples of premises liability resulting in a wrongful death are swimming pool accidents, slip and fall accidents, or inadequate security measures.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
While state laws vary, either a representative of the deceased’s estate on behalf of the family members or family members themselves would generally file wrongful death lawsuits. The legal action generally requires that the plaintiffs prove damages, meaning that—in most cases—someone who was a distant relative or estranged from the deceased would NOT qualify file the claim.
Generally, family members who are eligible to file a wrongful death claim include:
- The deceased’s spouse
- The deceased’s children
- The deceased’s parents
- Siblings of the deceased, in the absence of spouse, children, or parents, provided they were at least in part dependent on the support and services of the deceased
- Adopted children or stepchildren who rely on the deceased for support
Some states allow claims to be filed by domestic partners who have either filed a legal certification of domestic partnership or who have cohabitated. Some states disallow wrongful death claims filed by the children of deceased fathers who were not married to the children’s mother, unless the father is named on the child’s birth certificate, legally claimed the child as his own, and provided support to the child.
Your wrongful death attorney can assess your circumstances and advise you of who is eligible to file a claim in accordance with your state’s wrongful death laws.
Multiple Parties May Be Sued in a Wrongful Death Action
To incur liability for wrongful death damages, an individual or entity must be found to have failed to exercise the responsibility to others that their position afforded. Some examples include:
- The driver who caused a motor vehicle accident.
- The hotel that failed to provide adequate security for its patrons.
- The manufacturer of a defective vehicle part.
- In some states, the establishment that served too much liquor to a patron, resulting in that patron having a drunk driving accident on the way home.
- The doctor who failed to diagnose a serious medical condition or failed to provide a standard of care expected by a professional in his or her position.
- The property owner who failed to appropriately secure his or her swimming pool, leading to a neighborhood child getting into his or her yard and falling into the pool.
- A trucking company that failed to properly train its drivers, resulting in a driver causing an accident.
- A therapist who knew that his or her patient planned to harm someone and failed to take the appropriate steps to safeguard others.
- An automotive repair shop that failed to adequately address a customer’s concerns about his or her vehicle, resulting in an accident caused by the malfunction.
- An adult who supplied alcohol to a minor who later died of alcohol poisoning.
As you can see, many individuals and entities can cause a person’s death. In some cases, there may be more than one liable party. Your attorney will look carefully at the details of your case to establish all potential sources of liability.
What Are Some Damages You Might Seek in a Wrongful Death Action?
Like personal injury lawsuits, most states allow plaintiffs in wrongful death cases to claim both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to costs such as the deceased’s final medical expenses, and funeral and burial arrangements. These costs can also involve the loss of future earnings and the loss of services that the deceased provided to the household that survivors must now employ someone else to do. These services include cooking, cleaning, childcare, lawn care, and more.
Non-economic damages are awarded based on the impact that the death had on the family’s quality of life. These effects are obviously devastating, and it may be hard to put a price on how much grief and anguish you go through. Lawyers also know each relative’s connection to the deceased was unique. Some examples of non-economic damages that a spouse might claim in a wrongful death lawsuit include loss of companionship, loss of support, and loss of consortium, which is the loss of physical affection and intimacy. Some damages that a child might claim after the wrongful death of a parent may include loss of comfort or support, or loss of guidance. Damages that may be claimed by a parent who has lost a minor child may include loss of a relationship and emotional distress.
However, some states also allow—or only allow—damages relating to the deceased, such as their mental and physical pain and suffering from the time of the final injury until the time of death, as well as lost wages from injury or illness until death.
In some cases, where the defendant’s behavior is EGREGIOUSLY reckless, you may also seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are not related to the loss the family members suffered, but rather they are designed to punish the defendant severely enough to prevent the repetition of that behavior.
An example of this would be a recent jury award to a man in Florida after the loss of his husband due to smoking-related illness. The surviving spouse filed a wrongful death case against cigarette makers, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. The jury in that case awarded $9.2 million for expenses and emotional impacts, as well as $148.2 million for punitive damages due to long-established evidence that the companies hid many of the dangers of smoking from consumers for years!
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Determined?
There is no “typical” wrongful death case or established amount that one may seek. While some states place caps on non-economic and punitive damages in wrongful death cases, the amount of the settlement or award is largely dependent on the unique details of each case.Some factors used to determine the appropriate amount include:
- The age of the deceased person at the time of death
- The deceased person’s earning capacity as estimated by the wage he or she was earning at the time of death, education level, and how many productive working years he or she may have had in absence of the death
- The value of lost benefits, such as unused sick time or 401k contributions that the deceased’s employer would have made if not for the death
- The deceased’s state of health before the accident occurred
- The age and circumstances of the deceased’s dependents (Did they have young children at home, for example?)
- Medical bills accrued during the treatment of the deceased’s final illness or injury
When You Need a Wrongful Death Attorney, Count on the Law Firm of Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law
The legal team of Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law, is nationally recognized for protecting the rights of injured victims and their families for more than 20 years. If you have lost a loved one in an accident, we are here to support you in this difficult time. Learn about your options by having a free consultation with one of our specialists. Because we take all of our personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis—including wrongful death cases—you will not owe us a DIME unless we win your case. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so call us today at 800-898-4877 or contact us now by CLICKING HERE.