Regardless of how it happens, losing a loved one is never easy. When someone is responsible for another person’s death, certain family members or a deceased person’s estate may be able to bring a wrongful death claim against them. But how do you know whether you have a viable claim? The best personal injury lawyers know which specific factors to consider when determining whether a client may have a valid claim. Understanding these elements can help you make an informed decision about pursuing a wrongful death claim.
Was the Death Caused by Negligence?
It goes without saying that someone must have passed-away for a wrongful death claim to be considered. The major element that must be proven is whether their death was caused by negligence. To prove this, three factors must be taken into account:
Duty of care—you must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased victim. For example, all motorists have a legal obligation to obey traffic laws to keep themselves and others safe on the road.
Breach of duty of care—this means that the defendant failed to act reasonably, which caused them to breach their duty of care. For instance, if someone gets behind the wheel while they are intoxicated, they are breaching their duty of care.
Breach of duty of care led to the victim’s death—you must also prove that the defendant’s breach of duty of care led directly to a victim’s death. If the drunk driver in the scenario mentioned above ran a stop sign and t-boned another car, causing the death of someone inside, they may be liable for damages.
Although proving that negligence caused a victim’s death may seem straightforward in such examples, it can be challenging. That is why it’s vital to have an experienced car accident lawyer evaluate your case if your loved one was killed in a motor vehicle crash.
What is Your Relationship to the Victim?
In some states, a deceased victim’s spouse, children or parents can file a wrongful death claim directly. In others, the administrator of a victim’s estate must file the claim. If the victim died without a will or did not name an administrator for their estate, one will be appointed by the court.
When Did the Death Occur?
Each state also has its own statute of limitations for how long a family member or estate has to file a wrongful death claim. In many states, the time limit is two years from the date of death. However, there are exceptions and statues of limitations vary by state.
Have You Suffered Losses Due to Your Loved One’s Death?
To be awarded damages, you must also show that you suffered losses or expenses as a result of your loved one’s death. Wrongful death damages may include the future earning capacity of the victim, loss of companionship, love, and guidance, funeral and burial costs, and other damages. Quantifying some of these losses can be challenging, so having a seasoned accident or injury lawyer determine the value of your claim is critical to recovering the maximum compensation to which you may be entitled.