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Wrongful Death Cases – Overview

When an individual dies in an accident or as a result of the injuries sustained in an accident, his or her family members may file a wrongful death claim with the party whose actions led to the victim’s death. Wrongful death claims bear some similarities to other types of personal injury claim, but also have a few elements that make them unique. Deaths can occur in any type of accident, such as a car crash, a fall, or a physician’s error.

The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is one year from the date of the victim’s death, which is not necessarily the date that the accident occurred.

What Kinds of Damages May be Covered with a Wrongful Death Claim?

A victim’s loved ones may seek compensation for all that they lost due to the victim’s death. Potential damages to recover include the following:

  • Funeral expenses for the victim;
  • The mental anguish experienced by the victim’s loved ones after his or her accident and death;
  • The victim’s lost wages. This includes both the wages he or she missed at the time of his or her death and the victim’s potential future earnings;
  • Lost benefits, such as a pension or retirement benefits;
  • The expenses accrued by the victim’s family around the time of his or her death, such as their own lost wages;
  • The loss of the victim’s companionship to his or her loved ones; and
  • The medical bills and other needs, such as mental anguish, that the victim suffered as a result of his or her injury prior to his or her death.

Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim?

If the victim was married at the time of his or her death, the victim’s spouse has the right to file a wrongful death claim. If the victim did not have a spouse, that right then moves on to the victim’s next of kin, which is generally his or her children. If the victim had no children, the right to file a wrongful death claim moves on to the next set of loved ones, in this order:

  • A representative of the victim’s estate;
  • If the victim was dependent on his or her parents at the time of death, the victim’s parents; then
  • If the victim was dependent on any other party at the time of his or her death, the administrator of his or her estate.

If the victim’s next of kin is a minor at the time of the wrongful death claim’s settlement, the money received may be put into a trust for the claimant to access once he or she becomes an adult.

How are Wrongful Death Settlements Calculated?

Because many of the damages sought in a wrongful death claim are based on estimates, rather than clear monetary amounts, determining an appropriate settlement amount for a wrongful death claim can be more complicated than determining one for another type of personal injury claim. For damages like the loss of the victim’s future earnings, an insurance provider cannot simply calculate his or her yearly salary and multiply it by the number of years he or she would have spent in the workforce before retiring because there are so many other variables that can affect this.

For example, inflation needs to be considered. An individual who makes $40,000 in 2015 has greater spending power than an individual making $40,000 in 2030. When calculating lost future earnings, the value of a dollar’s increase over the years the victim would have remained in the workforce is calculated, then multiplied by his or her yearly salary when he or she died. This figure is then reduced by the percentage between the salary’s current and projected future value to reach a compensation amount.

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