Only certain individuals or designated bodies, such as the estate of an individual, can bring a wrongful death claim. In most cases, these would be a surviving spouse, surviving children (biological or adopted), or the executor of the deceased’s estate acting on behalf of the estate. Other individuals or parties who may be able to bring a wrongful death claim include domestic or life partners, siblings, grandparents, and certain financial dependents.
How Wrongful Deaths Occur
There are many ways a wrongful death can occur. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 165,000 people in the United States were killed by unintentional injuries in 2018. Some of the leading causes of these deaths were slip and falls, motor vehicle accidents, poisoning, suffocation, and drowning. Other common causes of unintentional accidents leading to death include workplace accidents, nursing home accidents, and medical malpractice.
Culpability for Wrongful Deaths
In most cases, you can bring a wrongful death claim against the party or parties whose actions, negligence, recklessness, or incompetence led to an accidental fatality. Depending on the context, this can take many forms. Consider the following scenarios:
- A business owner does not secure in-store fixtures, and a fixture falls on a child, killing him or her.
- A business or property owner does not clear their business premises or property from slip and fall hazards such as holes, wiring, or damaged flooring, and a visitor fatally slips and falls.
- A construction site fails to meet applicable workplace standards set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for the construction industry, and a worker is fatally injured as a result.
- A doctor makes surgical or treatment mistakes, misdiagnoses a patient, incorrectly reads test results, fails to perform certain tests, or makes other errors that lead to a patient’s death.
- A drunk driver strikes another vehicle or a pedestrian, resulting in a fatality.
- A trucking company fails to perform important vehicle servicing, and a truck breaks down on the road, leading to fatalities.
- A nursing home does not have the staff—or does not have trained staff—to provide the home’s residents with the care and supervision they need, and a resident dies of neglect, abuse, or other preventable causes.
For each of the cases above, the children, surviving spouse, other close relatives, or the estate of the decedent (the person who has died) may be able to bring a wrongful death claim. Such claims can be against a vehicle operator, a medical practitioner, a business or property owner or operator, or a nursing home, as applicable based on the circumstances in which the fatality in question occurred.
While close relatives of a decedent are usually the ones who can bring a wrongful death claim, it is important to remember that applicable statutes will ultimately be used to determine who can bring such a claim. For example, under certain circumstances, financial beneficiaries of a decedent may bring a wrongful death claim. In some cases, estranged relatives or other distant relatives may be barred from doing so even though they may bring a claim under different circumstances.
Determining who can bring a claim and what to do if one class of beneficiaries does not exist is where an attorney may be able to help. An attorney can help determine who has the right to bring forth a claim, how to choose a representative if there are no beneficiaries, and when special guardians chosen by the decedent may be able to file a claim if other surviving beneficiaries—such as minor children—are unable to do so themselves.
To bring a wrongful death claim, the beneficiary or estate representative must show that:
- The death in question would not have occurred if it was not for the negligence or incompetence of the at-fault party identified as responsible for the death.
- Those bringing forth a claim are legally entitled to do so.
- Surviving beneficiaries of the deceased suffered damages from the death of their loved one.
There are different ways an ultimate dollar figure can be arrived at to value a wrongful death claim. Damages typically included in such claims include pain and suffering, lost income, loss of companionship, loss of support, and funeral and burial expenses. In some cases, the lifetime earnings of the deceased that were lost can be claimed, and an attorney can determine the dollar value of pain, suffering, and other intangible, non-economic damages.
Contact Us Today
Handling wrongful death claims can be painful, but you must do it right to recover the damages and handle the financial fallout of your deceased loved one. For help with a wrongful death lawsuit, call Gacovino, Lake & Associates, P.C. at (631) 600-0000. We will walk you through what you need to know about wrongful death litigation and what you need to do next to get your legal claim underway.