Wrongful Death Lawsuit Defined

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action seeking compensation for harm resulting from a death caused by the negligence of another. Although the distinction often gets muddled, a wrongful death lawsuit is different from a “survival” lawsuit, which is a legal action seeking compensation for harm caused to someone who subsequently died. The two lawsuits — wrongful death and survival — often get filed together; the survival legal action seeking damages for the harm the deceased suffered before dying, and the wrongful death legal action seeking damages for harm caused by the death itself. These types of claims are generally coupled together and referred to singularly as wrongful death lawsuits. 

When Can I Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Broadly speaking, a person can file a wrongful death lawsuit after another’s careless, reckless, or intentionally-harmful actions cause the death of a spouse or family member. State laws known as “statutes of limitations” set time limits on filing a wrongful death claim, so anyone seeking to file a wrongful death lawsuit should seek legal counsel right away to ensure they take action before their rights expire.

If you believe your loved one’s death was wrongfully caused by the negligence of another, we are here to help. We will connect you with the leading wrongful death attorneys in the country, who will seek justice on behalf of your deceased family member, and fight to get you the compensation you merit. Call 866-465-1419 or fill out the form to be connected with an expert wrongful death attorney today. 

What Do I Have to Prove in a Wrongful Death Claim? 

To obtain damages for a wrongful death claim, the party filing the lawsuit generally must prove:

  • That someone owed the deceased person a “duty of care” not to engage in conduct that created an unreasonable risk of causing harm
  • That the person who owed the duty violated it by engaging in that sort of unreasonably dangerous conduct
  • That the conduct at-least partially caused the deceased person’s death
  • That as a result of the death, the party bringing the lawsuit suffered damages

Who can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit ?

The party who has the authority to file a wrongful death lawsuit (and its accompanying “survival” lawsuit) varies according to the law of the state where the death occurred. Generally speaking, state laws follow one of two legal “systems” governing who files the lawsuit. The two systems reflect subtly different takes on the identities of the “real parties in interest” in a wrongful death action. 

The “Lord Campbell’s Act” System — Beneficiaries are the “Real Parties in Interest”

One system, which bears the name of a famous 19th century English law known as “Lord Campbell’s Act,” views a wrongful death as a harm inflicted on the people the deceased person leaves behind. It permits specific statutory “beneficiaries” of the deceased person’s estate (the body of assets, liabilities, and legal rights that a person leaves behind upon death) to file the wrongful death lawsuit. In most U.S. states, those beneficiaries consist of the people who would receive the proceeds of a person’s estate if that person were to die without leaving a will; typically, in order of priority, those are the person’s spouse, dependent children, parents, and other relatives. In this system, beneficiaries can often recover damages for their own “pain and suffering” caused by the death itself.

The Loss to Estate System — Deceased’s Estate Is the “Real Party In Interest”

The other legal system, known as the Loss to Estate System, views a wrongful death as a harm visited on the deceased person’s estate as a whole, rather than on individual estate beneficiaries. In states that take this approach, only the representative of the estate (often the deceased person’s executor) has the right to file the wrongful death action. Generally speaking, this system tends to limit the recovery in a wrongful death action to monetary harm to the estate, and prohibits recovery of estate beneficiaries’ own pain and suffering (though the estate may often seek payment for the deceased person’s pre-death pain and suffering via a survival action).

Types of damages awarded

Can I File a Wrongful Death Claim if Criminal Charges are also Brought?

Yes. In fact, the filing of criminal charges against the party responsible for causing a wrongful death may ultimately make it easier for you to succeed in a wrongful death lawsuit, because the prosecutor will do much of the wrongful death claim work while gathering evidence to prove the wrongdoer’s guilt. A conviction effectively facilitates proving the wrongdoer’s liability for damages caused by the death.

Even if a criminal prosecution fails to convict a wrongdoer you can still pursue and often succeed in a wrongful death action. The “burden of proof” for proving wrongful death liability (that the death more-likely-than-not resulted from the wrongdoer’s actions) is far-less-stringent than what a prosecutor must prove to win a criminal conviction (that the wrongdoer’s actions caused the death “beyond a reasonable doubt”). 

A famous example of this principle is when OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder charges, but the families of the victims still prevailed against him in wrongful death actions seeking financial damages. 

How The Law Center Can Help

To succeed in a wrongful death action, spouses, family members, and/or estate representatives need skilled, experienced and passionate legal counsel.

Hiring the Leading Wrongful Death Attorneys

Wrongful death actions address the most severe harm that one person can inflict on another. They constitute some of the most high-stakes legal actions that exist in American courts. Spouses, families, and representatives of deceased persons should choose carefully in selecting a lawyer to pursue their rights. A top wrongful death attorney will have years of experience in these sorts of actions, the resources to investigate and litigate them to conclusion, and the compassion to guide grieving families through an extraordinarily difficult time. 

The Law Center

The Law Center exists to connect people who have suffered harm with expert lawyers who can help them achieve the justice and compensation they deserve. Our network of attorneys includes many of the most skilled, experienced, and well-resourced wrongful death lawyers in the country. If the tragic death of a loved one has caused devastation in your life, contact us today by calling 866-465-1419 or filling out the form below to connect with the legal counsel you need.