What is the difference between “wrongful death” and murder?
A wrongful death claim is a civil action, not a criminal charge. It is meant to financially compensate the decedent’s loved ones for the harm they suffer due to their loved one’s death, rather than to punish the person, business, or other entity responsible.
Wrongful death law is different in each state. In general, a wrongful death claim can arise out of any accident or injury that could have resulted in a personal injury lawsuit had the victim survived. Wrongful death is often the result of negligence with no crime or intentional wrongdoing involved.
A wrongful death claim can also result from an incident resulting in criminal charges, but the civil and criminal cases are separate. Loved ones can bring a wrongful death suit even if there was no criminal conviction.
Who has the right to sue for wrongful death?
A wrongful death claim is filed by a representative of the decedent, but there can be many beneficiaries or distributees. Each state defines who is eligible for compensation through a wrongful death claim.
The estate of the decedent receives the compensation for the harm to the decedent, such as pain and suffering, when that type of compensation is available. Damages such as medical and burial expenses are typically reimbursed to party that paid them, whether that is the estate or a loved one.
Survivors of the decedent can receive compensation for their own financial harm and personal suffering, under a wrongful death claim. Survivors typically include the spouse and children of the decedent, at the least. In some states, and under some circumstances, parents, grandparents, and other relatives may be eligible for compensation.
What kind of compensation can I receive under wrongful death laws?
That depends on the wrongful death statutes in your state, your relationship to the decedent, and certain circumstances such as your deceased loved one’s age at the time of death. Common damages in wrongful death suits include:
- Lost financial support, such as the decedent’s income and future income
- Loss of inheritance
- Value of lost services, such as childcare, housekeeping, and home maintenance
- Lost companionship, love and affection, guidance, care, protection, advice, counsel, and assistance
What is the “discovery rule”?
The discovery rule can extend the amount of time you have to file your wrongful death lawsuit. The time limit for filing a lawsuit is called the statute of limitations. Under normal circumstances, the clock would start running on the day your loved one died. Sometimes, the victim or loved ones are not immediately aware of the fact that someone’s negligence or wrongdoing, or a defective product caused the victim’s death.
Under the discovery rule, the day that the statute of limitations starts to run is delayed to the day you found out, or should have known, that wrongful death was involved.