A wrongful death case is brought by either the estate or individuals who are the survivors of an individual whose death was caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another (the deceased person is referred to as the “decedent”). Each state has different rules about wrongful death cases. Among these rules are those set forth who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Generally, either a personal representative of the deceased’s estate or a relative or the decedent has the ability to file suit. Each state also stipulates the statute of limitations (time period during which a lawsuit can be filed) and recoverable damages for wrongful death suits.
The primary categories for which damages can be awarded in wrongful death suits are based on two different time periods. First, there are the damages that occur between the time of the negligent act and the time of death. For instance, if the negligent act causes an individual to be hospitalized and that individual dies in the hospital, the first category of damages would apply. Damages in this category could include the deceased’s pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses. Second, there are the damages incurred by the deceased’s next of kin after the decedent dies. This includes repaying the family survivors for any future financial losses.
Typically, this includes potential wages the deceased would have received if not for his or her untimely death. Other damages arising out of the death of the decedent, include the loss of the relationship between the next of kin and the decedent. This is especially so for a surviving spouse.
Also, if the court feels that it is warranted, it may award punitive damages to the surviving family members. Typically, this occurs when the defendant participated in reckless conduct, which caused the wrongful death. Punitive damages are meant as a deterrent for others from participating in such acts. These reckless acts include operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol.