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What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

This content about wrongful death claims was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

A “Wrongful Death Claim” is a type of claim that can be filed when a person or entity causes another person’s death wrongfully. It allows a lawsuit to be brought even though the one who was affected is dead; thus, they can’t bring the case themselves. 

Wrongful Death Definitions

There are many definitions of wrongful death, depending on where you look.

For example, the Meriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a death caused by the negligent, willful, or wrongful act, neglect, omission, or default of another.”

Wikipedia states that wrongful death is “a claim against a person who can be held liable for a death. The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives, as enumerated by statute.”

The Oxford dictionary defines it as an adjective “denoting a civil action in which damages are sought against a party for causing a death, typically when criminal action has failed or is not attempted.”

The entry in the online legal dictionary at law.com describes wrongful death as “the death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person. Such wrongful acts include: 

  • Negligence (like careless driving) 
  • An intentional attack such as assault and battery
  • A death in the course of another crime 
  • Vehicular manslaughter
  • Manslaughter or murder. 

Also, law.com states that a “Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit (wrongful death action) against the party or parties who caused the death filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased. 

Thus, a child might be entitled to compensation for the personal loss of a father as well as the amount of financial support the child would have received from the now-dead parent while a minor, a wife would recover damages for loss of her husband’s love and companionship and a lifetime of expected support, while a parent would be limited to damages for loss of companionship but not support.”

And “a lawsuit for wrongful death may be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased or by the individual beneficiaries (family members)”

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a legal action against a person that is considered responsible for the death of another person. Lawsuits for Negligent homicide can be based on wrongful death lawsuits, misconduct, or a criminal act like murder.

The wrongful death claim is presented in a civil action, usually by close relatives, based on civil responsibility laws. In the United States, the state and federal laws now allow wrongful death claims in all its jurisdictions.

Wrongful death in the United States

All states have their own wrongful death statutes and, In some of them, the relatives filing the suit of the decedent have to bring two different types of claims: a “survival claim” on behalf of the decedent’s estate to recover funeral expenses, punitive damages, and sometimes the decedent’s pain, and suffering, plus a “wrongful death” claim to recover the “full value of the life” of the deceased, or the financial and intangible losses to the family members from the death of their loved one. 

The standard of proof in the United States, as in most civil cases, is typically preponderance of the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt.

Each state has different laws regarding wrongful death claims. In most states, the statute of limitations (time limit to file a case) varies according to how the death occurred. 

For example, in Oregon, many wrongful death claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations – but there are many exceptions, including when alcohol is involved, when a public body is involved, or in product liability claims.  

In California, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim generally is two years, also with some exceptions and other related deadlines.

It is important to consult with a licensed attorney from your state if you have questions of what the statute of limitations might be for your claim.

One of the most complicated wrongful death issues, and a particularly poignant illustration of how wrongful death expands liability beyond that at common law, is whether a wrongful death claim can be founded upon intentional infliction of emotional distress that caused the decedent to commit suicide. 

The first jurisdiction to allow such a claim was California in 1960, followed by Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Wyoming.

Wrongful death after a crime trial

If the person being sued for causing a wrongful death is accused of a crime, the wrongful death claim can be presented after a criminal trial. It is possible to win a civil lawsuit for murder or manslaughter, even if the person is found not guilty of the crime that resulted in the death or even if never charged of the crime, because both criminal and civil cases can use essentially the same proof.

Sources:

Wrongful death claim

Wrongful Death legal definition  

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content about wrongful death claims was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.