Death in the family is always an emotionally trying time filled with unknowns, financial and emotional uncertainty. When that death happens wrongfully, unexpectedly, and due to someone else’s negligence, the pain is even more difficult to cope with. In addition to the emotional pain, there is often financial strain that plagues families. It’s why most states have wrongful death cases, which allow the family members or the estate of the deceased, to claim damages because of the wrongful death.
A wrongful death case is legally defined as a civil action brought by the survivors or the estate of a person who passed away due to the negligence or intentional actions of someone else. These cases can generally fall under two broad categories. One category covers the damages suffered by the family from the time of the accident to the person’s eventual death. For example, if someone is in an accident and they are in the hospital for two months before they pass away, the family can potentially sue for damages for the time the person spent in the hospital and the medical bills, lost wages, physical pain, etc that was endured during that time. The second— and perhaps the most common—is the category that includes when the next of kin sues for damages after a person is deceased. This type of case is meant to compensate for the total losses of the person’s death including lost wages over a foreseeable lifetime, funeral expenses, etc.
A Review of the Four Major Elements that Define the Case
As defined by U.S law, there is typically four key elements:
Negligence: In a wrongful death case, the surviving family members need to prove that the death was caused by recklessness, carelessness, or negligent action.
Breach of Duty: In this type of case, it must be proved that a defendant owed a duty to the deceased victim. A physician, for example, has a duty to his or her patients and is therefore liable if he is negligent.
Causation: This is where the plaintiff must also prove that it was that person’s negligence that caused the death.
Damages: The damages refer to the accrued and quantifiable damages the victim’s accident or death causes. This includes medical bills, burial costs, hospitalization, and even emotional damages.
Who Can Typically Be Awarded Damages?
Most commonly, it is the immediate family. Most wrongful death cases allow for the following next of kin to seek these lost damages:
Spouses: A spouse has a claim for the loss of companionship, emotional distress, financial responsibility, etc.
Children: This is often limited to minor children, due to the loss of companionship and support they will miss due to the loss of their parent.
Parents: For parents of minor children who have passed away, they are able to claim damages for the emotional trauma and the loss of the child.
Tips for Dealing for the Emotional Distress
No settlement can bring back your loved one. This much is true and being prepared for dealing with this amount of stress can really take a toll on families. Here are some general tips in keeping your head up as you navigate the complex legal system and your loved ones death.
Acknowledge your feelings. Many people make the mistake to push back their personal grief while they deal with the legal stuff and all of the necessary actions. It is important, however, to give yourself space and time to grieve.
Accept that grief is a process. In the initial stages of grief or immediately following an accident, you might be feeling a mixture of anger, guilt, remorse, sadness. Everyone is different and there is no one correct way to feel. Accepting the process and acknowledging that they are normal emotions is a healthy way to allow the pain to pass.
Don’t be afraid to seek help. Seeking professional help to help cope with the many overwhelming emotions that come with grief can be a good way to unburden yourself.
Go With a Law Firm You Can Trust
A wrongful death case is a harrowing experience for any family, but it does help bring closure and a sense of justice to an already difficult situation. We have seen a sense of relief when families are awarded damages. If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, give us a call and we’ll answer your questions and help you navigate this difficult process.