When Should You File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

June 9, 2024

By Promoting Justice

A stop sign is not a “polite suggestion.” Stop signs, like other forms of street signage, are meant to help motorists avoid accidents and regulate the flow of traffic. Unfortunately, not every driver pays heed to the stop sign. Data collected by the Federal Highway Administration suggest that “each year roughly one–quarter of traffic fatalities and about one–half of all traffic injuries in the United States are attributed to intersections.” If you have been injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver running a stop sign in New Hampshire, Vermont, or Florida, you may wish to consider speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer at Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer to discuss the most appropriate steps for seeking compensation for your damages. Call their offices at (802) 457-4848 to start that initial discussion.

What Type of Accidents Occur When Running a Stop Sign?

Wrongful death lawsuits are a path to resolution for those seeking justice for the loss of a loved one. These legal actions are not merely about seeking compensation but also about holding those responsible for the untimely demise of another accountable. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Florida all have specific criteria that dictate who can file such a lawsuit. The determination of settlement amounts in wrongful death cases hinges on a complex evaluation of both economic and noneconomic losses incurred by the family of the deceased. As each state has its own statutory framework for wrongful death claims, understanding the legal intricacies can be vital in seeking justice for the departed. If you have questions regarding a wrongful death claim, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney with Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer at (802) 457-4848 to schedule a consultation and learn more. 

What Is Wrongful Death?

The concept of wrongful death revolves around the death of an individual due to someone else’s negligent, intentional, or reckless actions. Examples of how wrongful death might occur include: 

  • Negligence: careless driving, falling and hitting their head on an uneven floor, falling down an elevator shaft due to the elevator malfunctioning, being prescribed a medication that they are allergic to or given the wrong medication
  • Intentional: Homicide, assault, battery
  • Recklessness: a drunk driver kills someone after getting behind the wheel, an individual takes medication away from someone who needs it to survive, a manufacturer refuses to recall a defective product and an individual dies from using that product

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal action initiated when an individual dies due to another party’s actions. Each state has specific statutory rules governing the process and remedies available in such cases. These lawsuits allow affected parties, such as spouses and children of the deceased, to hold the individual responsible for the death liable for their actions and to seek rightful compensation for the damages incurred.

Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute indicates that these civil lawsuits can be filed even if the responsible individual is criminally charged or found not guilty. This means that even if the responsible party is not held accountable in criminal court, the family may still be satisfied knowing they have been found responsible in civil court. 

Wrongful Death vs. Personal Injury Lawsuits

While both types of lawsuits aim to provide financial compensation for the harm caused, the key distinction lies in who initiates the legal action and the nature of the damages sought. Wrongful death lawsuits address the repercussions of the loss of a loved one, whereas personal injury lawsuits are centered on the injuries and losses incurred by the individual who was directly harmed. 

Personal Injury

Personal injury lawsuits are initiated by individuals who have suffered an injury or other harm due to another person’s actions. This lawsuit seeks compensation for the damages and injuries directly experienced by the injured party. The injured party is the only individual who can file a personal injury lawsuit. 

Wrongful Death

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the legal action is brought by the surviving family members or the estate of the deceased person against the party whose negligent or intentional actions led to the death. A wrongful death case’s primary focus is on the damages suffered by the deceased person’s family members, such as loss of financial support, companionship, and emotional suffering. When determining whether a wrongful death lawsuit should be filed, they are relevant in situations where a victim who could have pursued a personal injury claim against another party passes away due to the wrongful actions of the defendant.

Elements of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

In a wrongful death lawsuit, the surviving members filing the claim must prove specific elements. These elements, as defined by law, are crucial in establishing liability and seeking justice for the deceased individual.

Elements to Establish in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

  • Negligence or Intent: The first element in a wrongful death case is proving that the individual being sued showed negligence or intentional harm towards the deceased.
  • Death: For a wrongful death lawsuit, someone must have died. If the individual was harmed but alive, the affected individual would file a personal injury lawsuit instead.
  • Causation: Wrongful death lawsuits must tie the first two elements together and show that without the negligent, reckless, or intentional harm caused by the defendant, the decedent would still be alive. 
  • Monetary Injuries to Surviving Family Members: This element involves showing the financial impact of the death on the surviving family members. This includes quantifying the economic losses, called damages, suffered by the family due to the untimely passing of their loved one.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Various situations can lead to wrongful death claims, each requiring the same essential elements to be proven. Some common causes of wrongful death lawsuits include:

  • Birth injuries
  • Medical malpractice
  • Accidents involving motorcycles, commercial trucks, or automobiles
  • Defective products
  • Aviation accidents
  • Assault and battery
  • Accidental food poisoning

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

In many states, surviving family members directly impacted by the death of a loved one can typically sue for a wrongful death lawsuit. Spouses, children, parents of unmarried children, and potentially other interested parties, depending on state law, have the legal standing to bring forth a wrongful death claim against the negligent party. The specific individuals eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit will vary based on the state’s wrongful death statute. Minor children may also need an adult representative to file the lawsuit on their behalf. 

Specific criteria in Florida, New Hampshire, and Vermont determine who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The criteria for each state is found in the state statutes: 

  • New Hampshire allows any person with an interest in the deceased’s estate to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • Florida requires the decedent’s personal representative to file the wrongful death claim and, if it is successful, to place the proceeds into the estate for the benefit of the decedent’s surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, or other relatives. 
  • Vermont has a similar law to that of Florida, requiring the decedent’s personal representative to file the claim and place the proceeds into the estate for the family. 

How Is a Settlement Calculated for Wrongful Death?

Settlement amounts in wrongful death cases can vary significantly and are typically determined by evaluating both economic and noneconomic losses suffered by the deceased’s family. Understanding the difference between the types of damages is essential for individuals seeking to pursue justice through this legal avenue for their departed loved ones. A knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer with Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer may be able to go over the types of damages with you and help you determine a fair settlement for your lawsuit. 

Economic Damages

In a wrongful death lawsuit, economic damages refer to the financial losses incurred by the surviving family members due to the death of their loved one. These damages typically include medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, loss of financial support, and potential lost inheritance. Calculating economic damages often involves assessing the deceased’s past and future earnings with the help of expert economists. By presenting evidence of the decedent’s life expectancy and economic losses resulting from the wrongful death, the plaintiff can seek compensation for these quantifiable financial hardships.

Noneconomic Damages

A wrongful death claim may also address noneconomic damages besides financial losses. These intangible losses encompass aspects such as the emotional pain, suffering, and loss of companionship experienced by the surviving family members. Proving noneconomic damages requires demonstrating the impact of the decedent’s absence on the family, including the loss of love, affection, guidance, and counsel. While assigning a specific monetary value to these non-financial losses can be challenging, they are an essential component of seeking justice and acknowledgment for the emotional toll caused by the wrongful death.

Punitive Damages

In certain wrongful death cases, punitive damages may be awarded as a form of punishment against the defendant and as a deterrent to prevent similar misconduct in the future. Unlike economic and noneconomic damages, punitive damages are not intended to act as compensation for the surviving family members for their losses but to penalize the responsible party for their egregious actions. Punitive damages are typically granted when the defendant’s conduct is considered incredibly reckless, intentional, or grossly negligent, exceeding the ordinary standard of care expected in similar situations. The availability and amount of punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits vary based on state laws and the specific circumstances of each case.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a legal claim pursued by surviving family members when a loved one dies due to the negligent, intentional, or reckless actions of another party. This lawsuit is intended to provide financial compensation to the family of the deceased and hold the responsible party liable for the death.

What Evidence Is Vital in Proving a Wrongful Death Case?

Collecting the decedent’s medical records, including doctor’s notes, hospital records, and autopsy reports, is crucial to establish the cause of death and the extent of injuries sustained. Other evidence may also be important, such as crime or accident scene photos or witness testimony, depending on the cause of death. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Who can file a wrongful death claim depends on the laws of the state in which the individual died. Typically, it will be the decedent’s personal representative or their surviving spouse, children, or parents, depending on their marital status and whether they have children. 

What Damages Can Be Awarded in a Wrongful Death Case?

Damages in wrongful death cases include economic damages covering financial losses like medical expenses and loss of financial support. Noneconomic damages addressing emotional pain and loss of companionship may also be included.

Are Punitive Damages Common in Wrongful Death Cases?

Punitive damages, awarded as a form of punishment against the defendant for extreme recklessness or intentional misconduct, may be granted in certain wrongful death cases. The availability and amount of punitive damages vary based on state laws and case specifics.

Do You Need to Hire a Wrongful Death Lawyer?

Navigating a wrongful death lawsuit in New Hampshire, Vermont, or Florida can be complex. Understanding the criteria for filing such lawsuits is key, from proving negligence or intent in the death to demonstrating monetary injuries. Types of damages, including economic and noneconomic, are also important considerations. For surviving family members seeking justice, legal guidance may be valuable in protecting their rights. When facing the aftermath of a wrongful death, consulting with a knowledgeable lawyer may make a significant difference in pursuing rightful compensation. Contact Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer at (802) 457-4848 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys and learn more about your rights