The loss of a loved one is one of life’s most tragic experiences, and when that loss is caused by the negligence of a person or company, it is even more tragic and is known as a wrongful death. In many of these cases – where a loved one’s death was caused by the wrongdoing of another person – it is highly likely survivors will have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What is Wrongful Death?
What is “wrongful death”? It’s the legal term used to describe the death of a person that was the fault of someone else. It could be traced back to carelessness, negligence, intentional harm, or even an honest mistake. Wrongful death cases are common when medical malpractice occurs or when a person dies because of a harmful product. In wrongful death, it usually doesn’t matter how a person dies, but what caused their death and whether someone is at fault. Wrongful death cases are an opportunity to show that if the accused had acted or not acted in a certain way, the plaintiff’s loved one would still be alive.
The legal definition of wrongful death can vary slightly from state to state. In Washington, D.C., wrongful death is defined as having been “… caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another person or corporation.” Some of the instances in which a wrongful death lawsuit might be appropriate include:
- Malfunctioning or defect of a device or product
- Car accident
- Slip & fall
- Medical negligence
There are limits as to who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Washington, D.C., wrongful death lawsuits can be filed in the name of the Personal Representative of the deceased. This usually includes the spouse or children, but it could include other family members of the survivor was dependent on the deceased. For instance, a nephew or niece would not normally have the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit due to the loss of an aunt or uncle, unless that person was dependent on the aunt or uncle, and/or that person is the only living kin of the aunt or uncle.
In addition to who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, there are also limits as to how long you have to file. In DC, a person eligible to file has two years in which to do so. It is possible to file a wrongful death claim, which is a civil claim, while there is an ongoing criminal case.
A wrongful death verdict or settlement might result in a survivor receiving a variety of different types of compensation, including money that can be used for:
- Funeral and burial costs
- Medical bills
- Loss of financial support
- Loss of companionship, and other personal matters, such as personal advice, support, education, and anything else the deceased could have provided had he or she survived
Who Can Be Targeted in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Though it’s understandable why someone would want to lash out at anyone and everyone involved in a loved one’s death, there are limits as to who can be named as a defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit. Remember, in order to win a wrongful death lawsuit, you must show that person or entity was responsible for your loved one’s death. If it seems a stretch that you’ll be able to do so with someone remotely involved in the incident, you are better off keeping your target narrow. Some examples of people named in wrongful death claims include:
- Driver of the vehicle involved in an accident
- Person who served alcohol to a drunk driver
- Doctor guilty of malpractice
- Company that produced, distributed, or marketed a dangerous product or device
- Manufacturer of a vehicle that malfunctioned
- Owner of property that was not maintained
How Do I Know If I Have a Wrongful Death Claim?
The best way to know if you have a valid claim is to speak to an attorney. He or she can review the details of your case and determine if proceeding with a claim is your best option. In most cases it is free to have an attorney review your case and you are under no obligation to proceed regardless of his or her recommendation.
Should you choose to move forward with a wrongful death claim, it’s essential you work with an experienced Washington, D.C. attorney who will assist you in building your strongest possible case. He or she will:
- Prove the accused acted in a way that caused your loved one’s death
- Determine what your compensation should be based on medical bills, funeral costs, and other expenses
- Create a compelling argument for your right to compensation
- Negotiate for compensation
- Prepare a lawsuit and speak on your behalf in court if a settlement is not reached outside of court
- File the lawsuit and meet other deadlines within the appropriate time frame
Experienced wrongful death attorneys understand how difficult the situation is that you are in. Most are compassionate and know all too well that money can only do so much to comfort you after you’ve lost a loved one. They also understand how difficult it can be when you are emotional to consider practical issues in the future.
Though you might not feel like it now, there might come a time down the road that you have no choice but to deal with the financial burden the loss of your loved one created. While you focus on your emotional recovery, a wrongful death attorney can handle the practical matters and ensure you are compensated fairly. No amount of money will ever bring your loved one back or give you the time you deserved to share with your loved one, but a wrongful death claim can ensure you do not have to suffer any more than you already have.
If you would like to learn more or you need to speak to someone about filing a wrongful death claim in Washington, D.C., contact Ashcraft and Gerel at (800) 674-9725.