Beginning a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Death is tragic in all its forms, but nothing is more frustrating than saying goodbye to a loved one or family member taken before their time. No one wants to imagine the possibility of that kind of loss, which is why it is important to stay informed in the unfortunate event that you need to prepare for a lawsuit. Wrongful Death occurs by the lethal (often accidental) actions of negligent people and specialized attorneys exist to protect the families of the deceased.
The Encyclopedia of American Law defines wrongful death as: The death of a human being as the result of a wrongful act of another person.
A wrongful death motive does not have to be malevolent in order to be eligible for a lawsuit, which is why the list of unjust acts is so expansive. Accidental deaths are taken just as seriously as premeditated crimes and the bottom line is to compensate the family of the deceased for their pain and suffering.
Examples of unlawful acts include:
- Medical or professional malpractice (any instance in which you hire a professional, such as an architect, a doctor or an accountant, and their negligence results in a death)
- Intentional or malicious assault/battery
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Death in the course of a crime
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Wrongful Death Causes
In most wrongful death lawsuits, there is no ax-wielding villain. Although there is not always an easily identifiable face of evil, someone must still be held responsible for violating your rights. Faulty machinery, inadequate care and safety violations are all examples of wrongful death causes. Some of the most common instances occur after motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, product liability and airplane accidents.
Most importantly, if you have been directly impacted by the loss of a loved one, financially or otherwise, you may have just cause to pursue legal action. A law firm experienced in these claims will work to ensure that someone takes responsibility for the wrongs committed against your family.
What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A Wrongful Death Lawsuit is a lawsuit filed against the party or parties responsible for an unjust death on behalf of the bereaved family members. The lawsuit is filed in civil court, which makes the proceedings a little different from criminal trials, specifically regarding the materials required to pursue a civil case. The question focuses on who bears the most responsibility for the demise, instead of pointing a finger at one unquestionably guilty party.
Saying goodbye is hard and learning to live without the person you lost is harder. Whether they help families grieve or assist them through financial hardship, lawsuits are proven to be an important staple in the American justice system.
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Famous Acts of Negligence
Many celebrities have been at the center of civil cases, perhaps the most infamous of which is the 1997 wrongful death case against Orenthal James Simpson. Although O.J. was not found guilty for the murder of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman in criminal court, Goldman’s family later filed a civil lawsuit against Simpson for wrongful death and battery. A unanimous jury found Simpson to be liable and ordered him to pay $33,500,000 in damages to the families of both victims.
The disparities between criminal and civil cases may seem unusual, but it is common for the standard of proof to be lower in civil court. In a civil case, the attorney must show the other side was negligent in causing the injuries and losses by either clear and convincing evidence or a preponderance of evidence.
In a criminal case, the prosecutors must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that if somebody harmed your loved one and is not found guilty in criminal court, you may still be able to obtain justice in civil court.
The attorneys responsible for winning the O.J. Simpson case and others like it were able to do so because they had evidence of the four elements of negligence necessary to successfully obtain a verdict or settlement:
- The negligence of the defendant must be directly responsible for the victim’s passing.
- The death was wholly or partially caused by the defendant.
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty (such as the legal duty a doctor owes a patient to provide competent medical care).
- The death affected you or a family member, who in turn qualify for damages through a settlement or verdict.
The point of a lawsuit is not to put a price tag on the life of someone you love. It exists to take the act of justice one step further and provide relief to a family in need.
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Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for wrongful death actions varies, but it often does not extend any farther than a couple of years. If you or someone you know has lost an immediate family member due negligence, malpractice or manslaughter, it is important to contact a professional immediately to ensure their memory receives the justice it deserves.
Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?
While the rules of taxation vary, the IRS states that personal injury lawsuits and wrongful death lawsuits are non-taxable because a third party inflicted the injuries. There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as if the courts deem the settlement to be compensation for loss of income. Check with your tax advisor on current federal and state tax law.
Why Should You Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney?
Originally, the idea of wrongful death fell under “Common Law” and was not a valid reason to pursue a claim because a deceased person cannot file a lawsuit. Since then, the legal system has evolved, and each state has laws in place to compensate a grieving family member for sorrow and emotional distress.
The legal rights of those who have lost a member of their family vary from state to state, but typically the spouse is the first eligible person to file a claim on behalf of the deceased. Priority goes to spouses, parents and children of the deceased. This way, financial compensation helps a family cover funeral expenses, psychological costs and adjust to the abrupt change in their lifestyle.
Navigating the turbulent legal waters can be intimidating, which is why finding the right attorney should be your priority. He or she is trained to spot negligence, prepare a lawsuit and defend the rights of the deceased.
We’re here to help! Talk to an Isaacs and Isaacs team member today.
Contact Isaacs & Isaacs immediately to find out whether you have a wrongful death claim. Our seasoned team of compassionate attorneys stand ready to help you get the compensation you deserve to begin the process of building a new life. We understand that the loss of your loved one may have caused you financial stress, and we will represent you on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay any attorney fees or costs unless we win or settle your case. We don’t get paid until you do.
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