When someone you love has been taken from you suddenly, the grief can be overpowering. You will require some time to heal and become accustomed to your new life. 

Nothing can replace that special person, but you might be entitled to compensation that would help you cover some of the medical expenses and funeral costs. If that individual was the primary or sole provider for your family, the compensation could also include lost income. 

Wrongful death claims are usually brought by a family member of the deceased against a defendant whose actions, whether intentional or not, caused or contributed to the death of the person who’s gone. If you’re considering such an action, here are a few things you should know before you get started.

1. Criminal cases are tried separately from the wrongful death suit

Many wrongful death lawsuits arise from a criminal act, whether it was murder or drunk driving. OJ Simpson, for example, was sued for the deaths of Ronald Goldman and his wife Nicole Brown Simpson.

When a death is caused by an intentional act, criminal charges are likely to address and include that aspect. However, those proceedings and all the testimony and evidence in your case must be presented separately.

“Sometimes, a death may result in both criminal charges and a wrongful death lawsuit being filed,” according to an article published by The Sawaya Law Firm in Denver. “For example, a drunk driver who causes a fatal accident may be charged with vehicular homicide and also be sued by the family of the person killed. The criminal charges and civil lawsuit proceed separately.

“A criminal prosecution is intended to punish a wrongdoer and is brought by the police and government prosecutors,” the article continues. “A wrongful death lawsuit is a separate civil action filed by the survivors to obtain monetary compensation.”

2. You need proof

After a lawsuit has been filed, you must present proof of a valid case. “In order to hold the defendant liable in a wrongful death claim, the plaintiffs in the claim (usually through the estate of the deceased victim) must meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have had to meet had the victim lived,” says David Goguen, J.D. in an article for AllLaw.

“So, using negligence as an example, this means showing that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care, that the defendant breached this duty, that the breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the death, and that the death caused the damages that the plaintiff is trying to recover.” 

The required amount of proof tends to be significantly lower for a civil case as compared to a criminal one. Consult with your attorney to learn how to assist in gathering that evidence.

3. Only family members can recover compensation from a wrongful death suit

“State laws provide for recovery by a surviving spouse, immediate family members, children, and even parents of a deceased fetus,” says an article from FindLaw. “It all depends on your state’s wrongful death statute. Generally speaking, though, a suit for wrongful death is brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate.”

In some cases, the wrongful death suit can be filed by a legal dependent or a legal representative of the estate rather than a direct family member. It depends on the relationship and responsibilities of the person who attempts to file a claim.

For example, someone who is not a family member but is legally responsible for the estate and expenses incurred may make a strong claim for compensation to cover funeral costs and medical expenses.

4. Federal employees are usually exempt from wrongful death lawsuits

“In some cases, certain persons or agencies may be immune from a wrongful death lawsuit,” according to an article from Nolo. “That means they cannot be sued for wrongful death. Who might be entitled to immunity again varies from state to state. For example, in some situations, government agencies and employees might be immune from a wrongful death lawsuit, or even family members in certain circumstances.” 

This immunity is designed to protect certain government entities whose work entails a high level of risk or liability. A police officer, for instance, assumes a much higher amount of risk than most other employees when on the job, and if he or she gets killed while on duty, his employer couldn’t afford to pay a wrongful death claim every time this happens to someone in that department.

However, there are some exceptions in the matter of immunity. For example, traffic accidents, failure to repair roads, negligence on government property, and other negligence in duties can allow the removal of government immunity.

Trying to understand the ins and outs of wrongful death suits can be time-consuming, but it’s an essential part of navigating your case to a successful conclusion. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to establish your claim and obtain the compensation you deserve.

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