A wrongful death claim, in legal terms, denotes a circumstance under which someone else’s negligent actions cause the death of an individual. The surviving family then has the right to pursue compensation for those losses. Family members with the right to file a wrongful death claim will file the claim as a civil action with the court, and a skilled wrongful death lawyer can help ensure that their case is presented effectively in court.
When Does a Family Have the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
A family generally has the right to file a wrongful death claim when the deceased individual died due to someone else’s negligent actions. By working with a lawyer, the family will prove several key elements.
1. The Party That Caused the Individual’s Death Bore a Duty of Care to That Individual at the Time of the Incident.
A “duty of care” can include a broad category of responsibilities to help someone else avoid injury. Employers, for example, often bear a duty of care to their employees and must ensure they have adequate safety gear and protection whenever they step onto a job site or perform work for the employer. Likewise, drivers bear a strong duty of care to everyone who shares the road with them, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists. A “duty of care” could include any circumstances under which one party must exercise caution to help prevent injury to another.
2. The Individual That Caused the Accident Violated That Duty of Care in Some Way.
A violation of the duty of care can include any action that might potentially cause an accident or injury to someone else. Actions that violate the duty of care may depend on the setting and the specific circumstances surrounding an accident.
On the Road
Every year, more than 38,000 people across the United States die in car accidents. In many cases, the surviving family of those victims will have the right to file a claim against the party that caused the accident.
Drivers may engage in a number of potentially dangerous behaviors on the road, including:
- Driving while distracted
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Ignoring the rules of the road, including traffic signs
- Failing to allow adequate room to pass another driver
- Aggressive driving
- Swerving in and out of traffic
- Changing lanes without looking
Any time another driver’s negligent actions lead to an accident, the other people affected by that accident, including passengers in other vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, may have the right to file a wrongful death claim against the party that caused that accident.
Employers bear a strong duty of care to keep their employees safe on the job. Even employees who may have to go into dangerous areas or work in dangerous settings, including logging workers, aircraft pilots and flight engineers, construction workers, roofers, and garbage collectors, require adequate safety equipment to help them do their jobs without excessive risk.
Some employers, however, may skimp on protective equipment or fail to provide their employees with the necessary equipment to stay safe. Others may send their employees into dangerous areas without adequate precautions. Those employers, therefore, neglect their duty of care to their employees, which means they may bear liability when an accident occurs on the job.
In Businesses/on Private Property
Property owners bear a high duty of care to anyone who visits those properties. For business owners, that duty of care rises since they expect to open their properties to the public. Therefore, they must ensure all visitors have a safe experience at their facility.
The duty of care held by a property owner may include several key things.
- Keeping the building and grounds in proper repair. In some cases, property owners may grow lax about taking care of needed repairs, which can pose a danger to anyone who visits the property.
- Warning visitors to the property about potential dangers. For example, property owners might need to warn visitors about damaged stairs or a pond on the property that could pose a danger to small children.
- Clearly posting areas visitors should not enter, like employee-only business areas.
- Cleaning up businesses to avoid trip hazards and other possible dangers across the property.
When property owners do not exercise due precautions to help prevent those damaging accidents, it can increase the odds of a fatal accident.
Medical Care Providers
Medical care providers bear a particularly high duty of care to their patients. When medical providers do not issue their patients the expected level of care, it can result in catastrophic injury, severe suffering, and death.
Medical care providers may engage in several potentially negligent behaviors that can increase the risk of a devastating injury to their patients.
- Failure to properly diagnose a patient’s condition based on the symptoms presented and the information available.
- Failure to properly treat the condition once diagnosed.
- Birth injuries often stem from a failure to properly monitor the mother and child during birthing.
- Never events, or surgical errors, when a doctor commits an error that should never occur.
- Medical device errors or damaged medical devices.
Often, medical care providers will violate their duty of care by rushing through patient care responsibilities or failing to properly see-through care for a patient.
3. The Violation of the Duty of Care Led to an Accident.
In many cases, someone can violate the duty of care without it leading to an incident. Consider, for example, distracted drivers. Despite the fact they know the dangers associated with distracted driving all too well, most drivers admit to, at some point, using their phones while driving.
Furthermore, around 7 percent of drivers at any given time may have their cell phones in hand, including making a phone call, at any given moment. However, those drivers do not automatically end up in an accident whenever they pick up their phones. In fact, many people can successfully navigate the road despite minor distractions.
To show that you have grounds for a wrongful death claim, you must show that the other individual’s negligent actions led to the accident. If you cannot show that the other entity’s negligent actions led to an incident, you may not have grounds for a wrongful death claim.
4. The Accident Caused by the Liable Party’s Negligent Actions Led to Your Loved One’s Death.
To file a wrongful death claim, you will need to work with a lawyer to show that your loved one died as a direct result of the other party’s negligent actions. By its nature, a wrongful death claim supposes that your loved one died because of that incident.
Sometimes, multiple factors may contribute to an accident that results in your loved one’s death. A lawyer can help piece together those factors and give you a better idea of who likely bears liability for the accident and who you have the right to file a claim against.
Keep in mind that you do not have the right to file a wrongful death claim against a party that could potentially have caused your loved one’s death if your loved one did not die in the incident. If your loved one suffered damaging injuries because of a negligent party, your loved one might have the right to file a personal injury claim, but you might not have the right to compensation for losses your loved one may have suffered.
Damages Included in a Wrongful Death Claim
When you lose a loved one to the negligent actions of another party, it can cause immense emotional distress and suffering. On a purely practical level, you may note a number of financial challenges. A wrongful death claim, while it cannot bring your loved one back, can offer compensation for the damages that may have gone along with that loss.
1. Compensation for Your Loved One’s Funeral and Burial Expenses
When a death occurs unexpectedly, families often find it difficult to cover funeral and burial expenses. A full-service funeral and burial services can cost as much as $15,000 or more, proving prohibitive for many families.
Families can claim compensation for those losses as part of a wrongful death claim. Remember that you must show that you have had reasonable funeral and burial expenses based on norms for your area. You cannot throw an extremely elaborate funeral and claim compensation for costs well beyond those norms.
2. Compensation for the Loss of Your Loved One’s Income
Many families today rely on two incomes to stay afloat. Furthermore, many families may rely more heavily on one party’s income than the other. Losing your primary wage earner can be catastrophic for the family’s finances and stability.
As part of your wrongful death claim, you may have the right to claim compensation for the loss of your loved one’s income. Consider what income your loved one brought in over the course of the year, both as part of his primary wage-earning efforts and as part of any secondary income streams that may have come in over the course of the year, and work with your lawyer to include them as part of a wrongful death claim.
3. Compensation for the Loss of Services Performed for the Family
Family members can perform any number of critical services for the family. Often, when a family member dies unexpectedly, that may mean that the family will have to turn elsewhere for those essential services, including paying for those services.
Sometimes, a family member’s non-financial contributions can far exceed the value of the family member’s income. Figuring out how to replace those services can leave the family scrambling.
Often, replacing those services will mean paying someone else to take care of those vital tasks.
- Caring for children
- Caring for aging family members who may need extra assistance
- Cleaning the house
- Taking care of home or vehicle repairs
- Yard maintenance and upkeep
- Cooking for the family
Consider the services your loved one regularly performs and the cost to replace them, then discuss those challenges with a lawyer who can help guide you through including them as part of a comprehensive wrongful death claim.
4. Compensation for Loss of Presence/Consortium
Losing a loved one not only causes many financial difficulties but can also cause immense emotional distress. Often, family members must talk to a lawyer about including those non-financial losses as part of a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim may include elements of the suffering the family has faced due to the loss of a loved one, including things like the loss of the advice and support that a parent might have provided for a child or the loss of the companionship and connection offered by a spouse.
Who Has the Right to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Generally, the closest family members to the deceased can file a wrongful death claim. If married, the deceased’s spouse usually has the right to file a claim. If the deceased has no spouse, any surviving children may have the right to file a claim. In cases where the deceased has neither spouse nor children, his parents may have the right to file a claim.
Sometimes, the deceased may not have family members who fit directly into those categories. In that case, the deceased’s estate may have the right to file a compensation claim.
Contact the Chicago Wrongful Death Law Firm of Zayed Law Offices Personal Injury Attorneys for Help Today
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, you might have the right to compensation. Contact a personal injury lawyer in Chicago as soon as possible after your loved one’s death to get the support you need.