What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuit are filed against an individual or entity that has causes someone’s death negligently or through intentional wrongdoing. Wrongful death actions allow the estate of the decedent to file a lawsuit against the defendant (the party whose negligence or wrongdoing caused the death). A wrongful death causes not only emotional trauma for families that have lost loved ones, but also significant financial strain. Grieving families are often faced with raising money to bury their loved one or dealing with medical and hospital bills incurred prior to the decedent’s death.
They may also be looking at loss of household income as a result of their loved one’s death. Wrongful death lawsuits allow survivors of the decedent to seek and obtain compensation for these types of losses. The experienced Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys at KaplunMarx PLLC have a track record of successful outcomes with wrongful death lawsuits. Call us today to find out how we can help you.
Wrongful Death Versus Murder
Wrongful death lawsuits are essentially civil actions filed by the relatives of the decedent on the basis that the defendant is responsible for the death through a careless, deliberate or negligent act. They sometimes stem from an act that may constitute murder as defined by criminal law.
A murder charge is handled by the district attorney’s office (prosecutor) through the criminal courts while a wrongful death lawsuit is handled in civil court. While a defendant is found “guilty” in a murder case and punished with the death penalty or life in prison, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the defendant is found “liable” for the death and ordered to pay monetary support to the survivors or to the estate of the deceased.
Also, wrongful death lawsuits have a different burden of proof than criminal cases. In these cases, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the death by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means that there is at least a 51 percent probability that the defendant was negligent. In a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant committed the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wrongful death lawsuits are also often different in the type of conduct that is alleged. In these cases, the defendant may have been careless or negligent. For example, a speeding driver may have recklessly caused the death of a pedestrian. However, in a murder case, there is always some degree of criminal intent involved.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
There are four critical elements that must be proved for these cases to be successful. The plaintiffs must prove that the death of their loved one was caused by the negligence of the defendant. This could have been a reckless or careless act committed by the defendant, which resulted in the decedent’s death.
Plaintiffs must also prove that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased victim and that his or her negligence amounted to a breach of that duty. For example, a driver has a duty to always drive safely and obey the rules of the road. Doctors have an obligation to provide the accepted standard of care for patients. When a driver breaches his duty by driving drunk or speeding, or when a doctor fails to diagnose a patient in a proper or timely fashion causing death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed.
In addition to this the plaintiff must also show how the defendant’s negligence caused his or her loved one’s death. This is known as “causation.” Lastly, the plaintiff must show evidence that the death of the victim generated quantifiable damages such as hospital and medical costs, funeral and burial expenses, loss of income and potential earnings, and pain and suffering. In order to prove these elements of a wrongful death lawsuit, plaintiffs need an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death attorney on their side who can produce strong convincing evidence and expert witness testimony.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
There are generally three types of damages that may be available to survivors in a wrongful death lawsuit and they are as follows:
- Economic damages: These types of damages include the value of financial contributions the victim would have made to the survivors had he or she not died. Economic damages may include medical and funeral expenses connected to the death, loss of future earnings, loss of benefits such as pension or medical coverage, loss of inheritance and loss of the value of goods and services the decedent might have provided.
- Noneconomic damages: This could include damages for survivors’ mental anguish, loss of consortium and loss of love, care and companionship from the deceased.
- Punitive damages: These types of damages are usually awarded to punish the defendant for particularly bad conduct or egregious behavior.
In some cases, survivors may be able to recover interest on the damages from the time they were incurred up to the time they are collected. They may also get reimbursed for attorneys’ fees and lawsuit costs.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
If you have lost a loved one due to another’s negligence or wrongdoing, it is important that you contact an experienced Pennsylvania wrongful death lawyer who has successfully handled cases similar to yours. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations or time limit to file a wrongful death lawsuit is two years. This means that, in most cases, if you file a wrongful death lawsuit more than two years after the date of death, you may not get your day in court.
The experienced wrongful death attorneys at KaplunMarx PLLC understand that this can be an emotionally and financially challenging time for you. We provide competent and compassionate legal representation with the goal of helping you secure the compensation you deserve and holding the at-fault parties accountable. We understand that while monetary compensation cannot bring back your loved one, it can provide you with much-needed comfort and support during this difficult period in your life. Call us for more information regarding your legal rights and options.