It’s a scenario we all fear: a loved one is killed due to the negligence or misconduct of another person. These deaths can be caused by car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, workplace accidents, and more. They are tragic and often leave survivors struggling with crushing emotional and financial burdens.

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

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Wrongful death lawsuits are claims that survivors can file to seek compensation for lost wages from the deceased, loss of prospective inheritance, medical expenses that accrued prior to the decedent’s death, funeral expenses, and loss of relationship.

Here are a few things you should understand when it comes to wrongful death lawsuits.

Is a wrongful death lawsuit civil or criminal?
It is a civil lawsuit, which is significantly different than a criminal suit. Here are a few distinguishing factors.

A civil lawsuit….

  • Only entitles you to monetary (pecuniary) compensation for losses. A criminal lawsuit will punish the perpetrator, possibly resulting in imprisonment or other penalties.
  • Must be filed by personal representatives of the decedent’s estate (usually surviving family members). A criminal suit must be filed by the prosecuting attorney.
  • Is generally held to a lower standard of proof than criminal suits. For example, even if there is not enough evidence to prove someone guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court, a civil court could still find them liable for wrongful death due to a preponderance of evidence.

Who is eligible for wrongful death benefits?
This varies from state to state, but in Nevada, a spouse, domestic partner or children of the decedent can file a wrongful death lawsuit. (This may include stepchildren and even unrelated children who can show that they depended on the decedent’s support.) If there is no surviving spouse or child, the parents of the decedent can file a suit.

If the child of the deceased is under age 18, a family member of the minor can be appointed as their guardian and given the power to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on the minor’s behalf. Additionally, claims can be filed by a representative of the decedent’s estate with the damages being awarded to the child.

How is a wrongful death settlement calculated?
How do you put a price tag on a human life? There’s no simple formula, and no amount of money will ever replace that life. For the purposes of wrongful death settlements, though, a number of factors are typically consulted to arrive at a final value. These include the age, education, earning capacity, and health of a deceased person at their time of death as well as the value of their lost benefits (retirement, health insurance, etc.) The age and circumstances of the decedent’s dependents are also accounted for. So, too, are the medical bills that the decedent may have accrued prior to death and their funeral expenses.

How long do wrongful death lawsuits take?
This varies depending on the case. Some can resolve in just a few months; others take a few years. Insurance companies want you to settle for as little compensation as possible. They may offer you a fast settlement, and you may be tempted to take it to end the stress and hassle and get your benefits quickly. This decision could affect the rest of your life, though, so you want to proceed cautiously and ensure that the payment is enough to cover the full scope of your losses. Once you’ve agreed to settle, you can’t go back and sue for more later. If you can’t reach an agreement with the insurance company, you can proceed to a trial. Sometimes this allows people to get the full damages that they are seeking, but there is no guarantee. You will need to weigh the risks carefully.

Do I need a wrongful death lawyer?
Wrongful death claims can be very complex. Insurance companies can apply a lot of pressure to settle, and people may not know what is an appropriate settlement amount. A good wrongful death attorney can draw on his or her extensive knowledge and experience to help you get the maximum compensation that you deserve. They can shoulder the stresses of the lawsuit so that you can focus on healing and rebuilding your life.

Knowledge is power when it comes to the law. Wrongful death is difficult all the way around, but if you know your rights and get the best people to advocate for you, you can get the benefits that you are entitled to and begin moving forward toward a brighter day.