Wrongful death occurs when an individual or entity is held legally responsible for causing someone’s death. When this happens, often family and friends of the deceased are left with many questions. They must process the death of their loved one, while additionally considering the legalities of how the death occurred and what the legal ramifications and processes could be.

What is wrongful death?

As a lawsuit, it is a civil case filed against the individual or entity that is believed to have been legally responsible for the cause of someone’s death. A variety of situations could have lead to death, including:

  • Negligent or careless behavior or conditions, such as a car accident or medical malpractice
  • Intentional acts of violence or intended harm, such as an assault
  • The manufacture and/or design of a product that is defective
  • A negligent act, such as an accident where the driver was driving under the influence

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit?

The individual eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state. Typically, the person responsible for the deceased individual’s estate can file for a wrongful death lawsuit on the family’s behalf. Most states will allow a spouse, child, or other dependents of the deceased individual to make a claim for losses experienced due to wrongful death.

How are damages and compensation determined?

Damages and compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit vary from state to state. However, most individuals can expect to receive compensation for the following:

  • The amount of financial support the deceased individual would have provided had they still been alive
  • The loss of emotional support experienced by the survivors due to the absence of the deceased individual, including loss of care and companionship
  • The cost of funeral/burial expenses
  • The cost of pre-death medical treatment

Can a wrongful death judgment be discharged in bankruptcy?

In most cases, an individual deemed responsible for a wrongful death cannot avoid paying the debt incurred from a wrongful death case.

What’s the difference between murder and wrongful death?

In a murder case, the proceedings are handled in criminal court after charges are filed by the state. If the defendant is found guilty, they are punished through incarceration and possibly a fine.

The main difference between murder and wrongful death is in a wrongful death lawsuit, the proceedings begin with a case filed in civil court against the individual or entity believed to have been legally responsible for the death of the deceased individual. If the defendant is charged as guilty for the death, the liability is expressed only in terms of damages (monetary compensation) paid by the defendant to the estate or the family member who filed the case. The payment is determined and enforced through a judgment entered by the court.

How long do I have to file a wrongful death claim?

The statute of limitations in a wrongful death lawsuit varies from state to state. However, a two to three-year window is the norm. Once this deadline has passed, the chances of recovering damages or compensation have been forfeited. There are exemptions to this deadline, but they are rare, and it is best to file before the statute of limitations has passed.