Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Trials are usually around 3 to 4 days, but a wrongful death lawsuit can drag on for a bit longer. It could take months or even years before you hear the final decision.

Since you may have to wait a while to get the financial aid you need, file the lawsuit properly so you can avoid any holdups. Here’s what you need to know about when to file, who can file, and what the process is like.

What Is a Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is a legal term that refers to the fatal injury of a person. Family members can file this lawsuit on behalf of the deceased individual. But even if you aren’t a member of the family, you can still seek legal help if the loss affected you financially.

The purpose of a wrongful death case is to compensate those who were financially dependent on the deceased person.

Wrongful deaths can occur in many ways:

  • Accidents
  • Medical malpractice case
  • Defective appliances
  • Criminal violence

A person can be found guilty of wrongful death if they caused the victim’s death. Even if it was an accident, you can still seek legal help.

Personal Injury vs Wrongful Death

A personal injury lawsuit and a wrongful death claim are ways to seek compensation for damages caused by another party’s negligence. But they’re different in that a wrongful death claim stems from personal injury law. An attorney for personal injury cases is still a good choice for wrongful death lawsuits.

Should You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

First, determine if you are eligible for compensation under state law. This includes proving that your loved one had no fault in their death.

If a person dies during a noninvasive procedure, the family may be able to file a lawsuit against the doctor. However, if it’s discovered that the deceased didn’t disclose their allergies or was intoxicated at the time of surgery, the victim’s eligibility for this type of legal action might drop.

An attorney can help you decide whether a lawsuit is the right path forward.

What Evidence Matters

If your loved one died from a virus, medical records help prove this.

Police reports and eyewitness accounts can also establish what happened. These documents are more common in car accidents or workplace injuries.

You’ll also need to show how severe the victim’s injuries were. Pictures from autopsies and medical reports can be useful in this regard.

Finally, the judge will need something that proves your relationship with the victim. Spouses can provide marriage certificates. Submit birth certificates and adoption files to verify children.

Damages In Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are often referred to as “compensatory damages.” These are the kinds of financial awards that help you recover from your loss.

The court calculates compensatory damages using several factors:

  • The amount needed for the plaintiff’s medical expenses
  • Funeral costs
  • Lost wages and income that would have been earned by the deceased

Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in wrongful death cases as well. These damages are intended to punish the person responsible for causing your loved one’s death and discourage other people from engaging in similar behavior.

Hire a lawyer to calculate the damages you’re eligible for. This can be a complicated process, so it’s best to have an experienced attorney on your side.

Average Statute of Limitations

In most states, the statute of limitations is two years from death or discovery (when you find out about it). Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee are a few states that have shorter statutes of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits. You can check out this article on statutes of limitations by state for more information about what time limits apply where you live.

Average Settlement for Wrongful Death Lawsuits

In general, settlements are around $1 million, but they can be higher or lower. For example, the family of 19-year-old Tyler Thomas received $2 billion after suing a negligent student’s family and the university.

Taxes and Wrongful Death Settlements

The IRS won’t treat your wrongful death settlement as income, so you won’t have to pay taxes on it.

But Uncle Sam gets a cut of the pie when it comes to lost wages. Any money you earn as lost wages will be subject to taxes.

Why? Your relative would have contributed their fair share of taxes upon rejoining the workforce had they been active today. The IRS will also deduct punitive damages from your settlement and you’ll have to pay taxes on it.

Luckily, emotional damages are safe from the tax law. So those therapy bills you’ll likely have to pay aren’t taxable.

If you receive an inheritance from your relative in a will, it also won’t be subject to income taxes. Estate taxes may apply if the asset is worth more than a specific amount. You’ll need to consult an attorney for specific advice on this matter, as some exemptions can affect the taxability of estates.

How to Get Justice

Get in touch with an attorney who specializes in wrongful death trials. Personal injury law is also acceptable. Either way, talk to a pro so you can get a better idea of what your case is worth.

The attorney can also be the best resource for finding out whether you’re eligible for compensation and how much time you have left to sue. But you can only ask them so much during meetings. Supplement the rest of your legal knowledge in our education section.

Can I file a wrongful death lawsuit against a family member?