While lawyers and judges are the ultimate legal experts, of course, I believe that every citizen should take the time to learn a little about law for several reasons. First, it is important to know your rights, and knowing them can come in handy if anyone ever accuses you of a crime you didn't commit or threatens you legally in another other way. Second, learning about your local, state, and federal laws can help you act as a better citizen. When election time comes around, you can then truly understand ever change in law being proposed by a candidate and whether it benefits society or not. I plan to share posts about law topics explained in plain English on my new blog, so you can come back often to sharpen your legal knowledge!
When you're dealing with a death, it's difficult to see beyond the pain of losing someone; however, if that death was wrongful, you have a limited time to pursue a case and many variables to consider. The following questions and answers should help you determine if you have a wrongful death case and how you should proceed.
1. How Do You Know If The Death Was "Wrongful"?
Everyone dies, eventually, and since death is considered an inevitability, survivors might assume the liability rests with nature or circumstances beyond the control of humans; however, if the death occurred while an individual was in the care of someone or some institution, it could very well have been wrongful. If the death was brought about by the actions of a nurse or doctor, for example, even if there were many other situations going on, like disease and aging, there could be grounds for a wrongful death suit.
In the case of an accidental death, such as a car or work-related accident, even though there's no intent, people can be held responsible and liable. Every state in America grants survivors and family members the right to hold other parties accountable when death occurs at the hands of someone else. It is best to contact a wrongful death attorney when determining if the death of someone in your life fits the general criteria of a wrongful death.
2. What Kind Of Damages Can Survivors Sue For?
The type of damage and amount of damage will vary, according to what survivors could have reasonably expected, if the decedent had not passed away. For example, children who have lost a mother, father, or both, are eligible for the damages of lost parenting—something difficult to measure or put a price tag on, especially considering how adversely their entire lives may be impacted. A person who has lost a spouse may choose to fight for the financial compensation their partner would have earned, had they lived.
Survivors can also sue for the costs of a funeral and any related medical costs incurred by the deceased. In addition to the financial awards of any wrongful death lawsuit, interest on the amount of earnings or inheritance can also be pursued, meaning if a case you're involved in takes years to resolve in court, the compensation involved could keep growing as time passes.
3. Who Exactly Can You Hold Responsible For The Death?
From the drunk driver of the automobile involved in a fatal accident, to the doctor prescribing medications, to the pharmaceutical company fabricating the drugs, nearly anyone involved in the chain of events leading up to a death can be held responsible. Criminal actions, too, such as murder, are also grounds for a lawsuit.
Consider the circumstances of the death and ask yourself if, by removing or changing those circumstances, could the person still be alive? Was it simply a bad judgment call by the attending physician or a missed symptom by a nurse? If it was an accident, was that accident avoidable? There are many factors contributing to the validity and strength of a wrongful death suit, most of which should be orchestrated by a qualified attorney, although documenting as many influential facts and circumstances that you (and others) are aware of will help to build the case further.
4. How Do You Put A Wrongful Death Suit Together?
Once a wrongful death has been established, it's very likely that experts will be called upon to demonstrate how the death could have been prevented or how liability could be clearly established. It's important that family members and other survivors put aside the overwhelming emotions they're feeling and focus on the letter of the law, and that's where the help of a good lawyer really provides a measure of clarity. Almost everyone wants or needs to "blame" someone for the death of their loved one, but it takes an attorney to figure out how to actually do it in a court of law or mediation chamber.
5. How Is The Suit Won?
Losing a lawsuit would be bad enough in and of itself; however, losing a suit when the facts demonstrate a party is responsible for the death of someone close to you is devastating and profound. In order to be successful, your case must have the legal merits to survive under the scrutiny of the defendant's insurance investigators and attorneys, which means you must have a capable attorney of your own.
Among other factors, it's good to be realistic about the suit as it proceeds and not expect it to conclude quickly, such as depending on the outcome of it to pay your bills or make purchases. Evidence is crucial, whether it's the testimony of the attending physician or a bystander who saw a car wreck, and this evidence must all be considered and collected in a manner consistent with legal proceedings. It will also be helpful to your lawyer if you are clearly willing to take your case to great lengths, including a trial, in order to be successful. Although insurance companies may sometimes be quick to offer a dismissive settlement, adhering to the advice of your lawyer is the best course of action. Your case might be long and arduous, but knowing that as you enter into it should help you plan and prepare for the road ahead.
Losing someone is hard enough, but if they didn't have to die at this time and under these circumstances, you owe it to them, yourself, and perhaps many others to pursue the matter legally until justice is served.