Talk of wrongful death suits has been in the news in recent weeks with Vanessa Bryant suing the company involved with the helicopter crash that killed her husband, basketball legend Kobe Bryant, as well as her daughter, Gianna. Bryant’s claim alleges that the company failed to properly monitor the weather prior to the helicopter taking off.
Wrongful death suits are filed against a person or organization whose wrongdoing caused someone to die. This often leaves surviving loved ones bearing financial burdens that were unfairly inflicted on them. While a wrongful death lawsuit won’t bring a loved one back, it can restore monetary losses and improve the quality of life of surviving family members so that they can move toward a brighter future.
Not everyone chooses to go through with a wrongful death claim. Some people feel too overwhelmed by the legal complexities or worry that they don’t have enough money to pursue the suit. Others fear re-living the tragedy of their loved one’s passing.
In this article, we will help you understand more about wrongful death claims and their benefits. Knowledge is power, and knowing more about this process can help you know if a wrongful death case is the right course to pursue.
How is this different than a criminal suit?
To answer this question, let’s look at an extreme situation—a murder case. If your loved one is murdered, there will likely be a criminal case filed against the person who is suspected of committing the crime. The plaintiff in the case will not be you—it will be the government prosecutor. If the defendant is proven guilty, they will be punished—usually with jail time or death.
A wrongful death suit is different. It is civil, not criminal. The case will be brought by the deceased person’s estate or surviving family members (usually, spouse, children, parents, siblings, and closest living relatives—in that order). The sole purpose of one of these lawsuits is to allow people to reclaim monetary losses for what they have suffered due to their loved one’s wrongful death.
Can you file a wrongful death suit if you have already filed criminal charges?
Yes. It is not uncommon to file both suits. Keep in mind that criminal and civil cases are subject to different standards of proof. Criminal cases must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Civil cases can be decided “by a preponderance of evidence.”
Given these differences, it is not unusual to see a family lose a criminal case but win their wrongful death lawsuit because the latter is not as difficult to prove. This is what happened with the famous O.J. Simpson murder case. Even though he was acquitted in his murder trial, Simpson was found liable for the wrongful deaths of both Nicole Brown Simpson (his ex-wife) and Ronald Goldman (Nicole’s friend) and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the families.
What damages can you seek?
Damages vary depending on who is bringing the suit and the age, earning capacity and life expectancy of the deceased, but they may include:
- Medical expenses that the deceased person incurred before they died
- Funeral expenses
- Lost financial support from the deceased
- Lost prospect of inheritance
- Loss of “consortium” (companionship)
- Pain and suffering
How expensive is it to file a wrongful death suit?
There are court fees that will vary depending on your jurisdiction and fees for legal counsel. At Tingey Injury Law Firm, our wrongful death attorneys do not charge clients upfront for legal representation. Rather, we work on contingency fees. This means we only receive payment if you win your case.
Will you have to testify in court?
When some people think of lawsuits, they think of the emotionally charged courtroom scenes they see in movies. This may conjure up thoughts of ruthless cross-examination of legal parties. However, the majority of wrongful death cases do not go to court. Rather, they are settled through negotiation.
It is often a challenge for the deceased’s family members to know if they are getting a fair settlement. This is where an experienced attorney comes in. He or she can help you know if the settlement offer is reasonable or if you should hold out for a better outcome.
If a settlement can’t be reached, the case may proceed to trial. The risk of a trial is that a defendant may not be found liable for wrongful death and that the trial may drag on for a number of years. Nonetheless, a trial may be the best option if negotiations are not producing acceptable results.
How do I know if I have a strong enough case?
As the plaintiff in a wrongful death case, you must show that the defendant was negligent and that their negligence caused the deceased’s death. To do this, you must show that they had a duty of care for the deceased and that they breached that duty. In the case of a car accident, this might mean that they had the responsibility to drive legally and safely to protect other drivers and that they failed to do so.
Once you have established this breach, you must show causation, meaning you must clearly link the defendant’s breach of duty to the deceased’s death. So in a car accident case, you must show that it was the driver’s negligence that caused your loved one to die—not the actions of your loved one or of another driver or mechanical failure or anything else.
If you have doubts about the strength of your case, talk to an experienced wrongful death lawyer. They can draw on their knowledge of the law and their years of experience with wrongful death cases to help you know if it is in your best interest to pursue the case.
Remember that you only have two years from the date of your loved one’s death to file a lawsuit in Las Vegas so don’t delay. The last thing you want is to be rushing to put together a case at the last minute. Filing early will allow you ample time to work with your attorney and maximize your chances of recovering the financial losses that you have suffered due to your loved one’s death.