The liable party or an insurance company pays damages to the victim’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit. Typically, the person or entity responsible for wrongful death pays the victim’s loved ones.
Knowing Who Pays in a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death occurs when a person dies as a direct result of someone else’s misconduct or negligence. This means that the person at fault for the victim’s death is responsible for paying damages to the surviving family members. Four elements must be present to prove liability: a person died; the death was caused by another person’s negligence, recklessness or violent act; the decedent’s survivors will suffer financial damages as a result of the death; a personal representative has been appointed to handle the decedent’s estate.
If all of these elements are in place, it makes it clearer who pays in a wrongful death case.
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Liability and Compensation for Losses
Once liability has been established in a wrongful death claim, the at-fault party or their insurance company is responsible for compensating the plaintiffs. Which one pays for losses due to the victim’s death depends on the circumstances of the case.
Who Can File for Wrongful Death?
Depending on the state, the victim’s surviving spouse or adult children or the personal representative of the decedent’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit on the family’s behalf.
Statute of Limitations Impacting Your Case
The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years in most states. However, some factors can impact your case. The clock begins to run out starting from the date of the victim’s death, but the statute of limitations may vary in some situations.
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Damages That Can Be Recovered in Wrongful Death Cases
Of course, the family can never get back their loved one after a wrongful death tragedy. However, they can recover economic damages such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and funeral and burial expenses. They can also recover noneconomic damages like loss of love, companionship, care and support, loss of consortium and emotional distress. Punitive damages may also be awarded if the defendant acted particularly outrageous in their conduct leading up to the victim’s ultimate death.
How Are Losses Valued?
The losses suffered from wrongful death are measured by the actual out-of-pocket costs lost from caring for the victim prior to their death and then those involved after the death. The remaining financial damages are trickier to assign a value to because they are noneconomic. With economic losses, everything is calculated and estimated; for example, what the victim would have earned in income had they lived.
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Who Is Liable for Wrongful Death?
Different parties could potentially be liable in a wrongful death case. The circumstances of the accident and the victim’s death dictate who is held liable.
When Multiple Drivers Are Liable
If multiple drivers caused a multi-car accident due to reckless driving, distracted driving or speeding, they could be held liable for wrongful death. For example, those who engage in drag racing exhibit disregard for others and should know that their reckless actions can lead to severe crashes and fatalities.
When Transportation Companies Are Liable
Sometimes, transportation companies are responsible for wrongful death. This could be a trucking company, bus company or other organization. When a situation of negligence directly leads to a person’s death, the company can be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.
When Auto Manufacturers Are Liable
Auto manufacturers can be held liable for wrongful death if their vehicles contain defective components that cause fatal injuries to drivers or passengers. For example, some vehicles are equipped with dangerous, faulty airbags that are known to explode. If projectiles from the damage kill a driver, the auto manufacturer may be the liable party in a wrongful death lawsuit.
When Defective Product Manufacturers Are Liable
If a person dies from injuries sustained from using a product as intended, it shows that the product was dangerous and defective. The product manufacturer can be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.
When Supervisors and Institutions Are Liable
When a workplace accident stemming from negligence or recklessness leads to an employee’s death, the victim’s surviving family members or personal representative can file for wrongful death. Supervisors and institutions can be held liable if the death occurred due to a condition that should have been known to be dangerous. For example, if a construction worker dies on a worksite that lacks proper safety measures, the supervisor may be liable.
Institutions can also be held liable if wrongful death occurs. For example, nursing home residents who die due to nursing home neglect can be named as the defendant in a lawsuit.
What Compensation Is Available to the Victim’s Survivors?
The family of a wrongful death victim is able to recover compensation for certain damages if their lawsuit is successful. Both economic and noneconomic damages may be awarded, plus punitive damages in some cases.
Insurance Coverage for Economic Damages
Depending on the specific situation that leads to wrongful death, insurance will cover the costs of any economic damages. For example, if the person died as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident, an insurance company could pay out the costs of their medical expenses, lost wages, property damage and funeral and burial expenses.
Understanding Economic and Noneconomic Damages
Economic damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are those with actual monetary costs. They include medical expenses, lost wages, lost earning capacity, property damage and funeral and burial expenses. On the other hand, noneconomic damages don’t have specific numbers. They include the victim’s pain and suffering prior to their death and the family’s losses such as mental anguish, loss of companionship, comfort, guidance and care, loss of consortium and more.
How Are Wrongful Death Damages Paid Out?
Wrongful death settlements are paid out in two different ways: in a lump sum or structured settlement payments. Different factors can determine whether one option is preferable over the other.
What Are Lump Sump Payments?
A lump sum payment is exactly that: it is an entire payout of a settlement from a wrongful death case paid one time. Families can benefit from this option because it allows them to pay for their legal fees and any debts incurred. Lump sums are considered more flexible.
What Are Structured Settlement Payments?
Structured settlement payments from wrongful death lawsuits are paid to the victim’s surviving family members monthly or even annually. These payments bring financial relief and serve as a steady stream of income. However, once you enter into a contract for structured settlement payments, you may not be able to change the terms.
How Do Insurance Payments Work?
If a wrongful death settlement is sought from an insurance company, it’s important to remember that you should never accept the final offer from the insurer. It will be much lower than what’s appropriate and feasible to cover the costs of the damages in the case. However, with an attorney handling negotiations, there’s a much better chance of recovering a satisfactory settlement amount. The payout comes after the judgment and is deposited directly into an escrow account.
How Are Damages Divided?
The damages in a wrongful death case are divided based on the relationship of the surviving family members to the victim. The spouse often recovers most of the financial damages while the children are next in line. Depending on how many children the person had, the amount is split. For example, two children would receive 50% of their amount. If the decedent only had one child, they would receive the same as the surviving spouse.
How Are Judgments Enforced?
In wrongful death cases, a jury makes a judgment on a settlement amount that the victim’s family should receive. The attorney representing the plaintiffs enforces that judgment if the defendant hides assets or refuses to pay. This can be done by locating accounts and assets and seizing the money that’s meant to go to the surviving family members.
What Are Some Examples of Wrongful Death Claims?
Wrongful death claims can take many forms: medical malpractice, motor vehicle accidents, murder, fatal work accidents, premises liability and defective product claims.
Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death cases stemming from medical malpractice are more complex than some others. Depending on the circumstances, a doctor, other medical professional or hospital or other medical facility – or more than one party – might be liable. The statute of limitations for these cases is typically shorter, only one year.
Murder Wrongful Death Cases
If a person dies as a result of murder, the surviving family members can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the perpetrator. A separate criminal lawsuit for murder may also be filed against the defendant.
Fatal Work Accidents and Wrongful Death Claims
Employers are required to keep the workplace reasonably safe to prevent accidents and injuries. Although some people suffer on-the-job injuries in spite of precautionary measures, others may not be as lucky at work. If an accident in the workplace or on a worksite ends up killing an employee, the family has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the employer.
Premises Liability Leading to Wrongful Death
Slip-and-fall accidents that result in fatal injuries fall under the premises liability category of wrongful death. In this situation, the property owner or manager can be held liable in a lawsuit for failing to ensure that their property was in reasonably safe condition to prevent a potential accident. They owe a duty of care to anyone legally on their premises and are considered responsible if a condition they knew was dangerous or potentially dangerous leads to a person’s death.
Defective Products Leading to Wrongful Death
If a person dies as a result of properly using a product that turns out to be defective, their family has the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the liable party or parties. That could be the product manufacturer, retailer, wholesaler, distributor or another party.
How Wrongful Death Settlements Work
Typically, wrongful death lawsuits result in a settlement that goes to the victim’s survivors. The settlement is reached after the plaintiffs issue a demand letter and a monetary amount has been negotiated with the defense or an insurance company. If the dependent’s surviving family members are minor children, a guardian is chosen to oversee a guardianship that’s created for their benefit. The court must approve any settlement that’s reached.
How to Negotiate a Wrongful Death Settlement
Some wrongful death cases take time to settle. Attorneys are adept at negotiating settlement amounts for the victim’s family that are more than fair. They can ensure that all the necessary evidence is presented to support the compensation requested. The attorney also knows all the tricks that insurance companies try in offering a settlement and won’t settle for any less than their clients deserve.
When Do You Have to Go to Trial?
If the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit are unable to successfully negotiate a settlement amount, the case then goes to trial. All the evidence is presented to a jury so that the outcome can be resolved. The jury will determine a fair amount of compensation and whether punitive damages should be awarded on top of that. The judge ultimately determines whether to approve.
What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement Worth?
The average wrongful death settlement is within the $500,000 to $1 million range. Depending on the facts of the case, that amount can be smaller or larger; in some cases, punitive damages might apply and significantly increase the plaintiffs’ settlement.
How Losses Are Valued in Wrongful Death Cases
Damages are valued in wrongful death cases by taking into consideration the amount of economic damages lost as a result of the victim’s death; this applies to losses prior to the person’s death such as medical expenses and those suffered by the family after the death. Noneconomic damages are valued differently because they don’t carry any particular monetary amount. Items such as the expected income earning capacity the decedent would have achieved are calculated based on the person’s age, overall health and other factors had they lived.
Taxes on Wrongful Death Settlements
There are no taxes applied to wrongful death settlements.
Who Gets the Money in Wrongful Death?
The surviving family members of the victim get the money in a wrongful death lawsuit. This includes the person’s spouse and children. If the person wasn’t married, the children receive the money. If the person had no children, their next closest family members receive the settlement.
Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Depending on who the liable party is, either the defendant or their insurance company pays for damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Chances of Winning a Wrongful Death Suit
As long as all the evidence proves that a person died as a direct result of someone else’s negligence, recklessness or intentional act, the chances of the plaintiffs winning a wrongful death lawsuit are high.
What Happens if You Lose a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
If a wrongful death lawsuit is unsuccessful, the plaintiffs have the right to appeal.
Does Insurance Cover Wrongful Death?
Insurance covers wrongful death in some situations. Car accidents, premises liability and work accidents typically compensate the victim’s surviving family members in wrongful death cases.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Wrongful Death?
Homeowners insurance policies only cover wrongful death if a homeowner is determined to be liable. However, these cases are complex; the right evidence is necessary and many policies are insufficient to cover the damages of a wrongful death claim.
How Do I Get Compensation if the Defendant Does Not Have Insurance?
If the defendant lacks insurance, the plaintiffs can get compensation for wrongful death directly from the defendant. This could be from wage garnishment, but in some cases, collecting damages can be difficult. For example, if the defendant has minimal income and resources, it may be challenging.
How Will I Receive Payment for a Wrongful Death Claim?
Payment for wrongful death claims are via direct deposit. The plaintiffs’ attorney sets up an escrow account so that the money can go in it directly. Money can be given in a lump sum or in structured settlement payments.
What if I Cannot Afford an Attorney?
If you can’t afford an attorney but have just cause to file a wrongful death lawsuit, you can still have legal representation. Wrongful death is a subset of personal injury, which means that if you win your case, your attorney is paid on a contingency fee basis and takes a percentage of your settlement award. If you don’t win, you don’t have to pay at all.
How Much Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Cost?
Most courts charge a fee to file a wrongful death lawsuit. As for the cost after your case settles, you could get anywhere from around $500,000 to several millions of dollars.
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