What Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do
A wrongful death lawyer handles lawsuits for families who have lost a loved one due to the negligence or wrongful act of another party. In Florida, Statute 768.19 a wrongful death is “when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act, negligence, default or breach of contract or warranty.” In these cases, the estate of the deceased person may file a civil lawsuit. In addition to handling these civil suits, wrongful death lawyers often have experience with personal injury cases. A wrongful death attorney can help families hold responsible parties financially accountable for the losses they suffered. Continue reading to learn more about what a wrongful death lawyer does.
Wrongful death claims are civil actions made by the survivors of an individual who has passed away due to the negligence or misconduct of another. In these cases, the law allows the family members of the decedent (called “distributees”) to file a wrongful death suit seeking monetary damages. The wrongful death action is designed to provide compensation for relatives who depended upon the deceased for financial and emotional support.
While taking legal action may not be a priority for those who have lost a loved one, it is important for survivors of the decedent to consider retaining a wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible.
In addition to the significant emotional trauma of having a loved one pass away, families may also face considerable financial difficulties without the support of the deceased. The compensation provided by a wrongful death lawsuit can help ease this financial burden.
However, there is a time limit for submitting a wrongful death claim. This time limit is called the statute of limitations, and may differ from state to state and each type of lawsuit. Once this time period expires, the courts no longer have the jurisdiction to punish violators and offer compensation to victims, and lawsuits may no longer be filed (except under certain circumstances).
What Does a Wrongful Death Lawyer D
Investigating Your Loved One’s Death
The facts involved in wrongful death cases are often murky. People may give conflicting accounts regarding what happened. That may happen because of genuine confusion or misunderstandings. Still, it could also occur when a liable person or entity attempts to cover things up or shift blame to avoid accepting responsibility. A wrongful death attorney can investigate to get to the bottom of what happened.
For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 33,654 fatal motor vehicle accidents in 2018. If your loved one died in a car crash, a lawyer could review the police report and statements from eyewitnesses or anyone in the car with your relative during the collision. An attorney may discover that a nearby surveillance camera recorded the collision or the moments leading up to or immediately following it. A video may provide crucial evidence that the other driver violated a traffic law or acted recklessly. That information may prove useful when building a wrongful death case.
Another common wrongful death claim could occur if your family member died because of a medical error. Johns Hopkins University found that one in 10 deaths result from medical errors.
A lawyer can review medical records and enlist the help of one or more experts to determine whether the physician who treated your relative met the standard of care. Suppose the investigation reveals that the doctor made an inaccurate diagnosis, prescribed a drug contraindicated for your family member’s condition or had a known allergy to, or made a mistake when performing surgery. That could help the legal team establish that the physician committed medical malpractice. That evidence could also help the team build a claim against the hospital where your family member received treatment.
A Lawyer Can Explain Your Legal Rights
Laws related to wrongful death lawsuits vary from state to state. Depending on where you live, you may not qualify to sue for compensation. Some states limit the right to sue to immediate family members, while others allow distant relatives—and even nonrelatives—to file a wrongful death lawsuit in some circumstances. In other states, family members may not sue at all; only a representative of the deceased person’s estate may file a wrongful death suit. If they collect a financial award, the representative distributes the money to eligible relatives.
States also differ regarding the statute of limitations (the amount of time that plaintiffs have to file a lawsuit). The time frame may be a year or longer, depending on where you live. If you miss the deadline to file a lawsuit, you may forfeit your right to sue, even if you have a legitimate claim. Under some circumstances, the statute of limitations may be tolled (extended). A wrongful death attorney familiar with your state’s laws can explain what you need to know.
Wrongful Death Cases vs Other Personal Injury Cases
Generally, the decedent’s ability to bring a personal injury claim, had they survived, is a required element of a wrongful death claim. In other words, the circumstances of the accident would have entitled the decedent to bring a personal injury action. Some examples include:
Murder and manslaughter. A physical attack resulting in loss of life may enable family members to file a wrongful death claim. Had the victim not lost their lives, they could have filed a personal injury lawsuit. The victim would be entitled to recover medical bills, time lost from work during their recovery, and, potentially, punitive damages.
Medical malpractice. When a doctor performs an unnecessary surgery and the victim loses their life, the doctor may face a wrongful death claim. Had the victim survived the surgical procedure, they would have been able to file a civil lawsuit themselves. The personal injury suit would operate to hold the doctor accountable for their mistakes.
Negligent actions. If a truck driver’s failure to follow safety guidelines causes an accident, he or she may bear liability for wrongful death. If the driver fails to ensure their load is secure causing them to lose control, which results in the death of another, they may be responsible. Had the victim survived, they would have been entitled to compensation. The victim may recover the costs of medical bills, lost wages, and other damages directly resulting from the accident.
Several types of accidents can entitle surviving family members to file a wrongful death claim. For example, accidents on construction sites caused by unsafe conditions, accidents involving defective products, or brain injuries sustained as a result of a car or truck accident. Anyone who believes their loved one’s death could have been prevented should speak with an attorney. An experienced attorney who understands wrongful death laws can help you navigate your claim.