While there are provisions for filing wrongful death suits in every jurisdiction of the United States, the state laws that govern those filings will vary to some degree. Many of the provisions will be the same in all jurisdictions, but it takes an attorney who includes wrongful death in his or her scope of practice to determine what is and is not possible in a specific jurisdiction. Here are a few examples of factors that may vary from one state to the next and how they would impact the outcome of the suit.
Provisions for Who Can File
Many states have provisions related to who can file and what sort of circumstances apply in order for some of those eligible plaintiffs to seek this type of action. Just about every state recognizes the rights of immediate or close relatives to file wrongful death suits. What may vary is who a particular court recognizes as a close relative from a legal standpoint.
A spouse meets the legal definition of a close relative in every state of the Union. Children, including any child legally adopted by the deceased at some point in the past, would also enjoy this legal standing. If the deceased was not married at the time of the death and did not have any children, the parents of the deceased would also be classed as close relatives and be in a position to pursue the case.
When no close relatives exist, many courts recognize the rights of distant relatives to file on behalf of the deceased. That class is likely to include siblings and grandparents. It’s also possible that the state may recognize cousins, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren if they happen to be the closest living relatives to the deceased.
Provisions for domestic partners to pursue wrongful death suits are also in place in some states. Last, the executor of the estate of the deceased often has the legal right to file and pursue a wrongful death suit.
The Statute of Limitations
With a wrongful death suit, there is the need to file all the necessary documentation within specified time periods after the death takes place. Those time limits can vary greatly from one state to another.
For example, many states require an advance notice of an intent to file a suit. Depending on the laws in that state, the time limit for doing so may be as short as three months or as long as six months after the death.
In like manner, filing the actual suit must take place within a time frame allowed by state law. That can be as short as one year or be as long as two years.
The Types of Damages That May be Sought
There is also some difference in the kind of damages that may be sought in different jurisdictions. Some state laws place more emphasis on what is known as hard damages. This typically means damages for expenses incurred as the result of the death. In this scenario, the plaintiff could pursue compensation to cover things like end of life medical expenses or funeral and death expenses.
Other jurisdictions also have provisions for damages related to the anguish triggered by losing a loved one as the result of the negligence or improper actions of a third party. Those damages may be awarded as a way to help with expenses related to grief counseling or to alleviate some of the stress caused by the loss of income to the household and the resulting financial distress. There are also states that take into account the future loss of income based on what the deceased would have earned and contributed to the household in the years to come had the death not taken place.
When facing the prospect of filing a wrongful death suit in a specific jurisdiction, it pays to seek out an attorney who practices in that jurisdiction and knows the statutes that apply in that particular court. Working together, it’s possible for the plaintiff and the attorney to ensure that all documentation is filed in accordance with the court’s standards, the suit addresses every type of damages allowed, and that the rights of the plaintiff will be protected at all times.
When a loved one passes away due to the neglect or intentional actions of another party, there are grounds to file a wrongful death suit. Some wonder if it’s necessary to hire an attorney in order to pursue this type of case. The short answer is that a relative who meets the standards set by the local jurisdiction or the executor of the deceased person’s estate can file and pursue the case without benefit of legal counsel. While this is possible, it is often not advisable. Here are some of the reasons why it makes sense to find a personal injury attorney who has experience with wrongful death cases and authorize that legal counsel to pursue the case.
The Time Limit for Filing a Legal Notice or Claim
Filing a claim of wrongful death does involve a fair amount of paperwork. In many jurisdictions, the filing must take place within a certain amount of time after the death occurs. That time frame may be no more than a few months after the death. Someone who is unaware of this limit could find that it passes before all the data is collected for the paperwork. An attorney will be aware of how much time remains to file the claim with the court and ensure all the paperwork meets the court’s standards. This is important, because paperwork rejected due to some flaw does not provide the plaintiff with any extra time to file.
Filing the Actual Suit
There is also a time limit for filing the actual suit. Many people don’t realize that the legal notice or claim is only the first step in the process. Essentially, it serves to notify the court that a suit will be filed within a time frame that’s in compliance with the court’s standards. Typically, the actual suit must be filed in two years or less of the actual death.
Again, the documentation that is necessary to file the suit can be complicated for anyone who does not have legal experience. An attorney who has handled wrongful death suits in the past will be aware of what must be filed in order to meet the qualifications set by the court.
The Complexity of the Suit
Did you know there are differences in wrongful death suits that involve medical malpractice versus those that are brought due to an accident that took place because of the alleged actions of the accused party? Depending on how the death came about, the details that must be addressed and the structure of the lawsuit itself will be affected.
Understanding the Types of Damages the Court Will Entertain
Not everyone understands what types of damages may be sought as part of a wrongful death suit. Choosing to file without benefit of legal counsel could result in overlooking some kind of compensation that the plaintiff can legally seek. An attorney is in a position to evaluate the circumstances surrounding the death and determine what sorts of damages may be included in the suit.
Depending on the particulars of the case, it’s possible to seek damages for more than mental anguish. The suit could seek compensation for the projected income the deceased would have generated if the death had not taken place. Medical expenses and even funeral and burial costs may be included in the suit. If a spouse or child loses access to health insurance or a pension plan because of the death, claims for those assets may also be part of the suit.
Allowing More Time to Grieve
Attempting to pursue a wrongful death case without the benefit of legal counsel means investing a great deal of time and energy into the process. There’s the research that must be done in order to ensure the filings are accurate and meet the court’s standards. The time spent talking with witnesses and building a case is also a tremendous task to pursue while attempting to grieve.
Choosing to place the matter in the hands of an attorney alleviates much of the stress associated with preparing the case, filing documents in accordance with the court’s standards, and having to deal with all the details associated with the action. The result is that the spouse or other loved one initiating the case can focus more on mourning the loss while the attorney takes care of the processes and procedures.
Remember that just because it is possible to do something alone, it’s not always advisable to do so. In the case of wrongful death suits, seek out an attorney who can offer counsel and representation. In the long run, having legal counsel on hand will make it easier to move forward with the case and improve the odds of a favorable outcome.