Accident-related wrongful death and your legal rights
The term “wrongful death” is a legal term which refers to the death of an individual due to the negligence or intentional misconduct of another person or organization. In cases of wrongful death, surviving relatives or concerned parties may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party. Typical compensation recovered from wrongful death settlements include lost wages, loss of inheritance, funeral costs, and loss of companionship.
Wrongful death lawsuits can be quite contentious. That’s why it’s essential to hire an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after an accident in which wrongful death occurs. It may be difficult to prove that an organization’s negligent practices or procedures cause the death of your loved one. Also, individuals and entities often hire a competent team of lawyers to represent them in court and defend themselves from your accusations. You need a competent partner in your investigation and a superb litigant in court if you hope to receive compensation for wrongful death.
Types of Wrongful Death
Wrongful death takes various forms: fatal car crashes, medical malpractice, dangerous consumer products, or poor safety procedures (in the case of construction or manufacturing companies). Individuals, companies, and even (in some cases) government agencies may be liable for wrongful death suits for intentional or unintentional negligence.
The key to a wrongful death claim is that the decedent died unnecessarily—what happened would not have happened had another individual or company taken the right steps to prevent it. Types of wrongful death include:
- Negligent homicide. If, for example, a pedestrian is walking on a crosswalk and a driver isn’t paying attention to the road and strikes and kills said pedestrian, then (besides being subject to manslaughter charges in criminal court) the victim’s family may also file suit against the driver of the vehicle in civil court and recover damages like lost wages and companionship.
- Medical malpractice. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers have a sworn duty to care for patients. So when they neglect to properly monitor the patient or vital equipment, or they knowingly make a rash decision and that decision costs the patient his or her life, the doctor (and possibly the hospital) is liable for damages in a wrongful death suit.
- On-the-job accidents. Commonly, at construction sites and factories, workers are injured, even killed. Sometimes, these deaths are the result of freak accidents—bad weather conditions or other things no one could have foreseen. Frequently, however, workplace deaths are the fault of shoddy maintenance, poor scheduling practices, negligence, or human error. If it can be proved that a company or individual is responsible for a worker’s death, then that company or individual can be sued in civil court for wrongful death. Usually, however, these cases are handled under the worker’s compensation laws in place, and not personal injury law.
The Burden of Proof
To successfully pursue a wrongful death suit, your attorney must prove some of the same precepts that would be true if the decedent had merely been injured instead of killed. The things which must be proven in a wrongful death case are:
- The defendant in the case was obligated to follow standardized codes of conduct, safety, and professionalism. In the case of a car accident, for example, drivers are bound by law to drive carefully and according to road and weather conditions, and give way to pedestrians.
- The defendant did not live up to this obligation. Drivers who do not pay attention to the road may strike and kill pedestrians, in direct contravention of traffic and safety laws.
- This failure was the cause of the decedent’s death. It must be proven that the defendant’s negligence was the determining factor in the decedent’s death. The driver was not paying attention, didn’t see the red signal, and struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk at high speed, killing the victim.
- The decedent’s death caused real harm to the surviving family or dependents. It must be proven that the decedent’s death placed some sort of burden on the victim’s relatives. Perhaps the victim was the family’s breadwinner, and the family no longer has any way to support itself. In this case, the family would sue the defendant for lost wages which the decedent would have earned if they had not been killed.
Eligibility for Wrongful Death Suits
Not everyone can sue for wrongful death. Wrongful death complaints must be filed by a lawyer or attorney on behalf of the person or persons who suffer directly because of the decedent’s death—“parties of interest” in legal terms. Parties of interest may include:
- Members of the decedent’s immediate family (spouses, children, parents of unmarried children)
- Financial dependents (common-law or putative spouses, partners, spouses)
- Extended family members (brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc.; this may only be allowed in some states)
- Anyone else who suffers financial loss because of the death
Parents of dead infants or fetuses. Some states have laws that allow parents of unborn or prematurely-born children to sue for wrongful death in the cases of medical malpractice, with financial and emotional loss being the two most common damages claimed.
Targets of Wrongful Death Suits
Anyone who displayed negligence, callousness, maliciousness, or fault in a wrongful death may be sued for their role in it. Take, for example, a construction accident. A construction worker is working on a scaffolding at a great height. Another construction worker, who is inebriated on the job, gets into a crane and operates it incorrectly, knocking into the scaffolding, whose design was faulty. The scaffolding collapses, killing the first construction worker. Possible defendants in the wrongful death suit may include:
- The crane operator (for being drunk on the job)
- The designer, manufacturer, and/or distributor of the scaffolding which collapsed
- The federal agent who inspected and approved the type of scaffolding for construction work
- The bartender who gave the crane operator alcohol during his lunch break
- The owner of the bar where the alcohol was served
Reasons to Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney
In America, you have inalienable rights as a victim. But you must take steps to preserve those rights before time or circumstance take them from you. There may be statutes of limitations in your state which limit the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit after the death of a loved one. Furthermore, organizations which may be liable for wrongful death have the money to hire an expert legal team to deny your claim. It takes the seasoned legal representation of a wrongful death attorney to help you attain a successful settlement for the harm you’ve been caused.
The Reeves Law Firm is Here to Help
If you or a loved one has suffered due to a truck accident and has suffered injuries or wrongful death, then the time is ripe to call a tractor trailer accident lawyer. For these types of cases, you need aggressive, skillful, professional representation, the kind The Reeves Law Firm can provide. We specialize in personal injury law and have years of experience representing victims. Call The Reeves Law Firm at 256-355-3311 for a free and confidential consultation. We proudly serve injury accident victims in the cities of Decatur and nearby Huntsville along with those injured in the states of Alabama and Tennessee.