When is a Death “Wrongful?”

The death of a loved one is always traumatic, but when that death was unnecessary — the result of someone else’s negligence or intentional harm — it is even more disturbing and distressing. Many times such fatalities fall under the category of wrongful death, and the law provides for compensation and damages in such cases. It can, however, be difficult to understand when death can be truly classified as a wrongful and what type of damages can be recovered should a wrongful death claim be filed.

The Connection Between Wrongful Death and Personal Injury

You might not be aware of this, but personal injury claims and wrongful death claims are closely related: if a person dies as a result of what would otherwise be a personal injury claim, then their death is considered a wrongful death. In a personal injury claim, someone is injured because of another’s negligence or intentional act. That means that a wrongful death must also be the result of either an intentional harmful act, unlawful violence, or negligence. Keep in mind that wrongful death lawsuits are civil lawsuits, not criminal lawsuits. If someone dies as the result of another’s crime, then there is the possibility of filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Examples of Wrongful Death

Driving under the influence

The best way to explain what legally constitutes a wrongful death is through some examples of typical cases. For example, fatal car accidents can result in wrongful death lawsuits if the person died as a result of negligence on the part of the other driver or through an act intended to harm. The negligence might take the form of driving under the influence, running red lights, or driving while distracted (perhaps by a smartphone or similar device).

Another type of wrongful death involves accidents with commercial vehicles, such as tractor-trailer trucks that may be overloaded or be carrying an improperly secured load. Yet another potential area of negligence in connection with commercial vehicles is driving while drowsy or driving under the influence.

Medical malpractice can also be the basis of a wrongful death lawsuit. A doctor may have grossly misdiagnosed a patient resulting in their death, or through some other type of negligence failed to provide them with the correct medical treatment that would have saved their life. Hospitals can also be the target of medical malpractice suits if they do not follow correct procedures or make fatal mistakes with a patient’s medications.

safety sign

Defective products are another category which can result in wrongful death lawsuits. Such cases typically involve toys, pharmaceutical drugs, toxic foods, tools, machinery, or motor vehicles. It must be proven that the company that designed the product, the manufacturer of the product, or the organization that sold it was negligent in ensuring the reasonable safety of those using the product.

One of the best-known cases of wrongful death may well be the lawsuit filed by the parents of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman against O.J. Simpson. The basis for the civil lawsuit was an intentional act of harm resulting in death. Note that the civil lawsuit was separate from Simpson’s criminal trial.

Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

When a wrongful death claim is filed, it is filed by a personal representative of the deceased’s estate. If a parent was killed, then the beneficiaries of the lawsuit are the minor children; if a minor child is killed, the parents are the beneficiaries. If the personal representative of the estate does not file a lawsuit within 6 months, then any one of the beneficiaries can file on behalf of all of them. Wrongful death claims in Pennsylvania must be filed within two years of death.

Damages Involved in a Wrongful Death Claim

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Typical damages sought in a wrongful death claim include the cost of a funeral and burial, estate administration, medical expenses, lost wages and benefits, and compensation for pain and suffering. Lost wages and benefits can include the amount that the deceased would have reasonably been able to contribute to the support of their family had they lived. Damages can also include compensation for the loss of household services, which means things such as comfort and moral guidance are only applicable in cases where there was loss of a parent, spouse, or child.

Conclusion

If death was the result of a violent act, intentional harm, or negligence, then it may be classified as a wrongful death. Another way of expressing this is had the deceased lived then the injuries sustained would have merited a personal injury claim. Wrongful deaths can include deaths as a result of criminal activities, medical malpractice, vehicular accidents, and defective products. When a wrongful death claim is filed, there are several different types of damages that can be recovered, including funeral costs, medical bills, lost wages, lost benefits, and the loss of household services.

Contact Sacchetta & Baldino

If a family member has been the victim of wrongful death, you should start the process of filing a lawsuit right away – and the law office of Sacchetta & Baldino can help. We can file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased’s estate or surviving family, and either negotiate a settlement or pursue your claim in court – as well as investigate all the details that go into defending your rights. Contact us today so that we can put our years of experience and successful track record to work for you and make sure you receive the compensation that the law says you deserve.