After losing a loved one in an accident due to another party’s negligence, you may start wondering about your rights as a family. Do you have the right to compensation for your loss? If you have the right to compensation, how can you best pursue it and ensure that the liable party meets your family’s financial needs?
Understanding who can file a wrongful death suit can help you determine whether you may want to proceed with a claim. If you have questions about whether your family may have the right to a wrongful death suit, contact a wrongful death attorney to learn more about your specific rights and your next steps.
The Criteria for Filing a Wrongful Death Suit
To determine whether you have the right to file a wrongful death suit, a lawyer may look at several vital criteria.
1. The Cause of Death
For your family to have the right to file a wrongful death suit, you may need to show that someone else’s negligence led to your loved one’s injuries and death. Death need not have occurred immediately at the time of the accident to file a wrongful death claim, but you must show that your loved one’s death resulted directly from their injuries.
Any accident caused by someone else’s negligence that leads to death can entitle the surviving family to a wrongful death claim. However, some types of accidents may occur more commonly than others.
Auto accidents often lead to severe injuries, including brain injury, severe blood loss, or organ damage, that could result in death. Car accidents can occur for various reasons, including driver distraction, inebriation, or ignoring the rules of the road.
When a car accident causes the death of a loved one, most often, your family will need to file a claim for compensation through the liable driver’s insurance company. However, in some cases, you may discover that another party, like the driver’s employer, may have contributed to your loved one’s death. In that case, you might have the right to file a wrongful death suit against each entity that contributed to your loved one’s death.
Construction sites can pose immense potential for injury. Often, visitors to construction sites must navigate carefully to reduce the risk of a potential accident. Construction companies, including the general contractor often responsible for overseeing the job site, must make sure that the site does not pose any undue danger to visitors to that side.
However, various potential hazards can raise the risk of a severe accident.
- Dangerous equipment
- Inadequate safety gear or precautions
- Hazardous chemicals
- Electrical exposure
- Falling items
- Falls from heights
If your loved one dies due to the negligence of a construction company or worker, your family may have the right to file a claim against the construction company that caused your loved one’s death.
Premises Liability Accidents
Whether on public or private property, you have the right to expect a reasonable level of safety. Unfortunately, some premises owners may not keep their properties up to reasonable safety standards.
Sometimes, that lack of safety precautions can lead to severe injuries and death: falls from rickety stairs, swimming pool accidents due to inadequate maintenance and repair, or falling items can all cause dangerous accidents. In the case of premises liability accidents that lead to death, the property owner often bears liability for the incident.
Your loved one placed their care in the hands of a doctor, but that doctor failed to provide adequate care for the conditions your loved one suffered. Sometimes, medical malpractice, including surgical error, can lead to direct or immediate death.
In other cases, a medical provider may fail to take adequate care of a patient, particularly in a hospital; ignore symptoms; fail to make a timely diagnosis; or diagnose the wrong condition, leading to unnecessary treatments and, in many cases, leaving the initial condition untreated. In some cases, the doctor or hospital may bear liability for medical malpractice that results in death.
Nursing Home Negligence
In a nursing home, most seniors expect to receive a high overall standard of care. However, in some nursing homes, understaffing concerns, poor documentation, or lack of staff care can lead to the neglect of patients.
In some cases, that negligence can kill patients, either due to chronic lack of care over time or due to a serious accident caused by failure to treat the patient. The nursing home may bear liability for death caused by that inadequate care.
Using a product according to its stated purpose and the manufacturer’s directions should offer an overall safe experience. Unfortunately, some product manufacturers may not take adequate precautions in producing their products, which may increase the risk of serious injury even when using the product as intended.
When a dangerous product used according to the manufacturer’s instructions results in the death of a loved one, your family might have the right to file a claim against the product manufacturer.
When your loved one dies due to a workplace accident, you may have the right to file a compensation claim. Talk to a lawyer about any workplace accident that ends in death since your family may have the right to compensation even if your loved one committed the act of negligence that led to death at work.
2. Relationship to the Deceased
To determine who has the right to file a wrongful death claim after the death of an individual due to someone else’s negligence, a lawyer will take a close look at the people with the closest familial relationship to the deceased.
Each family can file only one wrongful death claim against each party that may have contributed to the loss of a loved one. Your family may have to determine how to most effectively distribute funds from a wrongful death settlement or court award.
The deceased’s spouse will have the first right to file a wrongful death claim. If the deceased does not have a spouse, the deceased’s children will have the right to file a wrongful death claim; and if the deceased has neither spouse nor children, the deceased’s parents may have the right to file a wrongful death claim.
In some cases, such as an individual with no spouse but multiple children, several people may have the same right to file a wrongful death claim. The family will need to work with a lawyer to determine how to best handle the case.
Filing a Claim for the Deceased’s Estate
In some cases, the deceased may not have immediate family members, including a spouse, children, or living parents, but may still have family members supported financially by the deceased. Further, the deceased may have considerable final expenses that the estate needs to contend with, including paying off debts, managing final medical expenses, or managing funeral and burial expenses.
In the case of no close relatives, the deceased’s estate may have the right to file a wrongful death claim. Typically, the funds from the claim would pay off the deceased’s final expenses, with any further funds going to the deceased’s heirs. Talk to a lawyer about whether you might have a right to file a claim as the executor of the deceased’s estate.
What Should You Do If You Think You Have the Right to a Wrongful Death Claim?
Your loved one died due to another party’s negligence, whether in a car accident or a case of clear medical negligence. You think that you and your family may have the right to compensation, which can help with the funds you may need to take care of your finances as you manage the loss of your loved one.
What should you do next?
1. Talk to a lawyer.
Losing a loved one can prove incredibly traumatic. You may find yourself with any number of tasks you need to handle. However, if you know or suspect that your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence, you should put talking to a lawyer at the top of your list. A lawyer can help you navigate the often difficult process of determining how to best handle the loss of a loved one, including whether you have grounds for a claim.
Learn How Much Compensation to Expect
While a lawyer cannot offer guarantees about the compensation you will recover for the loss of a loved one, an experienced wrongful death attorney can help go over the compensation your family realistically deserves for that loss, including breaking own your loved one’s financial and non-financial contributions to the family and how those contributions may have impacted you. A lawyer can also help you look over the terms of any insurance policy that may cover the party that caused your loved one’s death.
Get Help Collecting Evidence
An attorney can help collect evidence that will clearly establish what act of negligence led to your loved one’s death and why, as a result, that party bears liability for your loss. Often, an attorney can find it much easier to access vital evidence than you would on your own. An attorney may also have a better idea of what evidence might clearly display the reason for your loved one’s death.
Build a Compelling Claim
As a lawyer looks over the conditions of your loved one’s death and the compensation your family likely deserves, they will also use that information to build a compelling claim that helps establish your right to compensation. That claim can make a huge difference in your ability to recover the full compensation your family should expect for those losses.
2. Collect evidence regarding the cause of your loved one’s death.
A lawyer can help you determine what evidence you may need to present. However, in some cases, you may already have some of that evidence on hand.
Do not get rid of vital evidence, including any records from the incident. Instead, make sure that you keep track of vital evidence to present to your lawyer, who can help you create a compelling claim that establishes how the liable party caused your loved one’s death and what compensation you may deserve.
What evidence you may need, and what information may become valuable, may depend on who caused your loved one’s death and what factors may have contributed to the incident.
3. Avoid talking to the insurance company that covers the liable party without consulting your lawyer.
In some cases, when your loved one died due to someone else’s negligence, the insurance company that covers the liable party may get in touch shortly after your loved one’s death. The insurance company may try to issue a low settlement offer, including pressuring your family to accept a fast offer instead of taking the time to consider how much compensation your family may deserve for the loss of your loved one.
Instead of accepting the first offer presented by the insurance company, talk to a lawyer about the compensation your family deserves. An attorney can help you avoid many of the damaging tactics an insurance company may use to limit the compensation you can recover for the loss of your loved one.
Did You Lose a Loved One Due to Someone Else’s Negligence?
If you lost a loved one due to the negligence of another party, you might have the right to file a wrongful death claim. While a wrongful death suit will not bring your loved one back, it can provide your family with much-needed compensation that can help you recover financially from that loss. Contact a wrongful death lawyer as soon after your loved one’s death as possible.