A Serious Kind Of Personal Injury: Wrongful Death

Posted on: 26 March 2018

Many people may not realize it right away, but the victim's loved ones are entitled to seek monetary damages when there is a death. The business or entity (or even a particular person) who's responsible for the death of your family member owes you compensation. While money is a poor replacement for what you've lost, the financial implications of losing someone can only make your grief worse. Read on to learn more about a particular category of personal injury, wrongful death.

Who Can Sue?

While state laws do vary here, in most cases wrongful death suits may be brought by family members of the deceased, such as the widow/widower, child and parents. In the rare event that there are no close family members, the right may be extended to grandparents, grandchildren and siblings of the deceased. Some states recognize domestic partners for the right to sue as well.

Proof of a Case

The law evaluates a wrongful death case using 4 forms of "proof". All 4 of the following elements must be true for such a case to move forward. Knowing about these elements could be useful for those who are considering filing a suit, but may not be confident about its validity.

1. A death has occurred involving a human being.

2. That death was the direct result of intent or negligence.

3. There are family members who experienced a monetary loss due to this death.

4. An executor (or personal representative) has been appointed to oversee the estate of the deceased.

Proving the Elements

Of the above elements, only the second one poses any challenge. Proving that another party's actions led to a death may not always be easy. To prove cause, the law looks at 2 types of cause: proximate and actual.

Actual cause: This type of cause is also known as "cause in fact", and it is most easily understood as being able to proof that the actions of an entity led directly to the death of a person. When a car hits a bicyclist and kills them, the driver's carelessness directly led to their death. When a restaurant serves tainted food and a person dies as result, the restaurant reneged on their responsibility to serve patrons food that wouldn't harm them.

Proximate cause: Here, a death was caused by a negligent party, but you may have to follow a trail to that party to prove it. Take the example of the tainted food death above. The distributor or maker of the food itself may also be responsible for that death, and the loved ones of the victim are entitled to file suit against them. To determine proximate cause, ask yourself the "but for" question: would the death have occurred but for the actions of the defendant?

Speak to a lawyer from a firm like Putnam Lieb Potvin if you are concerned about the recent loss of a loved one.