Wrongful Death Vs. Personal Injury Claim

February 18, 2024

By Promoting Justice

Wrongful Death Vs. Personal Injury Claim

Not every death or injury is the fault of any party. Simple accidents do happen. However, when one or both types of calamities occur as the direct result of negligence, then the victim of the accident or the surviving family members may have legal recourse to seek a financial remedy. Often, that remedy becomes the first step to finding closure. A wrongful death or personal injury claim are both types of civil litigation requiring support from a legal team well-versed in these types of procedures. In Vermont, New Hampshire, and Florida, the law firm of Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer may be able to offer information about how to file those lawsuits. Schedule consultation to review your legal options by calling (802) 457-4848 today.

What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Personal Injury Claims?

A wrongful death or personal injury claim will always generate deep pain. For the layperson, the two types of claims may seem to be differentiated only by the severity of loss involved. From a legal perspective, however, those two claims are different. In the case of a personal injury claim, the injured party directly seeks some form of financial compensation. That compensation might typically cover the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Ongoing care, including prescribed medications or physical therapy
  • Punitive damages

With a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs can be the surviving spouse, the children, or the parents of the victim. The compensation in a wrongful death claim may attempt to cover the following losses:

  • Outstanding medical bills related to the incident
  • Funeral expenses
  • Future earnings 

Statute of Limitations

Most states impose a statute of limitations for lawsuits. This is the length of time an individual has before to file a lawsuit. If they do not file their lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, they are unable to file the lawsuit. 

A statute of limitations applies to both wrongful death and personal injury claims. §95.11, Fla. Stat. (2012) states the statute of limitations for these types of lawsuits in Florida is two to four years, depending on the type of lawsuit. Per V.S.A. §23.512 and New Hampshire’s General Court, the statute for both states is three years. The calendar starts on the day of the accident or the death. 

What Is the Most You Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

Recently, a Florida judge ordered a food distributor to pay a family $11 million as part of a wrongful death suit involving a 39-year-old mother of four. This resolution is on the high end of judgments in these cases. Average settlements in a wrongful death case are between $500,000 and a million. That number can vary greatly depending on the circumstances. 

Determining Losses in Wrongful Death Cases

In the aftermath of a wrongful death, the economic damages fall into two categories: Tangible and intangible. The tangible costs are all the outstanding bills, such as medical costs and funeral expenses. These costs also include lost wages, and the potential income the deceased would have generated had they lived.

Intangible losses cover the more emotional aspects suffered by the surviving family, such as deprivation of companionship, consortium, guidance, care, and overall support. Elements such as the victim’s age, health condition at the time of demise, educational and professional background, financial contribution to the family, and any potential shared responsibility for the incident leading to death all contribute to the final settlement amount.

Age’s Impact on Settlements

The age of the victim often significantly influences the settlement. The settlement tends to be higher if the deceased was young and potentially had several decades of productive life ahead. Conversely, cases involving young children may result in comparatively lower compensation due to uncertainties. Elderly victims’ families may receive comparatively lower settlements, especially when the victims were retired.

Household Services as Non-Economic Damages

The contribution of the deceased to household services can be a pivotal factor in determining the family’s settlement in a wrongful death case. Whether the victim was the primary provider of such services or shared responsibilities with a surviving spouse can impact the compensation for this non-economic damage. Household services extend to the care provided to minor children and other dependents within the household. A conversation with the legal team at Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer may help you to determine the true scope of damages in your wrongful death case.

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

A surviving family member or executor of the estate of the deceased can begin the wrongful death lawsuit process. In order to be successful, there are key elements that need to be proven in court:

Breach of Duty of Care

The legal principle of “duty of care” covers the basic expectation that all individuals should take reasonable precautions to prevent harm to others. In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the defendant is the individual or party that owed that “duty of care” to the deceased and subsequently breached that duty. 

What exactly is a duty of care? The term can mean anything from following traffic laws and being a responsible driver to providing responsible medical care. Duty of care also frequently extends to maintaining premises to ensure the reasonable safety of legitimate visitors. Premises whose maintenance typically involves this duty of care include workplaces, many public spaces, and residential properties, especially with respect to invited guests.

Negligence and Causation

Those filing a wrongful death case must also demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or carelessness led to the wrongful death. In other words, plaintiffs must show that the defendant’s breach of the duty of care led to the victim’s death. 

Establishing Damages

The final key element of a wrongful death claim involves establishing the damages incurred because of the victim’s death. In some wrongful death cases, a court may apply punitive damages in addition to those awarded to compensate the deceased individual’s family for their economic and non-economic losses. Punitive damages are designed to penalize the defendant for grossly negligent or deliberate actions. These damages are awarded most frequently in wrongful deaths caused by drunk driving.

How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?

A personal injury claim works procedurally in much the same way as a wrongful death lawsuit. A plaintiff must establish the breach of duty of care and the damages. These types of cases frequently get settled before the trial begins, especially if all parties acknowledge that the plaintiff has a compelling case to present in court.

Consider All Your Legal Choices

Establishing each of these elements in a wrongful death suit or personal injury claim often necessitates robust evidence, potentially involving witness or expert testimony. The knowledgeable attorneys at Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer may be able to assist you with collecting the evidence needed to prove your case. Learn more about your legal options by calling (802) 457-4848 and scheduling an initial consultation so that you can move forward without delay.