Wrongful death is a claim holding one person liable for the death of another. Typically, the claim is brought by surviving relatives of the deceased in a civil action on the victim's behalf. If successful, the wrongful death suit allows the victim's family to receive compensation for their loss of a loved one in terms of: loss of financial support, medical or funeral expenses, and loss of consortium. Some portions of wrongful death laws vary from state to state.
Aspects of Wrongful Death LawsuitsThere are several elements that must exist in order for the plaintiff(s) to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. These include:
- The death of a person caused either by another's negligence or intent to harm
- Survival of family members who are suffering financially as a result of that death
- An appointed representative of the decedent's estate
Reasons for Bringing a Wrongful Death SuitCommon reasons that a wrongful death suit is instituted include situations in which the victim has died as a result of:
How Are Damages Computed in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?Courts interpret financial (pecuniary) injury according to the following criteria:
- Loss of support
- Loss of services
- Loss of prospective inheritance
- Medical and funeral expenses
- Interest calculated from the date of the victim's death
Damages are generally awarded determined by the decedent's circumstances at the time of death -- age, health, earning ability, parenting responsibilities, and even profligate spending patterns. Typically, an adult wage earner whose surviving dependents will suffer not only loss of financial support, but loss of parental guidance, will receive large awards if their suit is successful. Even if the deceased was unemployed at the time of his/her death, the jury can consider last known earnings and potential future earnings. In the case of child deaths, damages may be awarded to family members for trauma and loss of relationship with the minor child.
For years, in wrongful death cases involving homemakers, financial loss of services was not considered, since the decedent did not provide income. In recent years, however, this statute has been changed, and the loss of homemaking services is seriously considered in terms of the cost of replacing those services. Experts are usually brought in to help establish claims of this nature.
Punitive DamagesPunitive damages are awarded when there is serious or malicious wrongdoing involved in the wrongful death. These punitive damages are designed not only to punish the wrongdoer, but to discourage similar actions on the part of other potential violators. Some states allow, and some states do not allow, punitive damages in wrongful death cases, and some do not specify their position. In states where the permissibility of wrongful death damages is unspecified, courts have held such damages allowable.
Personal Injury Survival ActionsAnother aspect of wrongful death suits includes the ability of the family to recover damages for personal injury to the decedent, or "survival actions." Survival action claims are based on the victim's degree of consciousness, severity of pain, apprehension of impending death, and the duration of such suffering.
It is important to remember that the jury does not have the final word in a wrongful death case. The court may reduce the jury's award if the judge feels the plaintiff has not produced sufficient evidence of earning power or of financially responsible behavior, for example, and may even, under certain circumstances, order a new trial.
Because of the complex and deeply emotional nature of wrongful death cases, it is essential for family members to engage the services of compassionate experts in this field of law. At Chandler, Mathis & Zivley we are prepared to fight aggressively for your rights so that you get all the restitution you deserve after the terrible trauma of losing a loved one to wrongful death.
Serving Houston, Lufkin & East Texas
If you have questions as to the circumstances that led to a tragic or unexpected loss of a loved one, the legal team at Chandler, Mathis & Zivley, P.C is well versed handling personal injury and wrongful death cases. Chandler, Mathis & Zivley, P.C. will do our best to get you answers to your questions with no upfront expense to you for our investigation. We represent our personal injury and wrongful death clients on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay nothing unless we recover compensation on your behalf.