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What exactly is a wrongful death civil case?

Civil lawsuits are not the same as criminal suits. Wrongful death civil cases provide opportunities for surviving family members to recover damages monetarily. Criminal prosecutions, however, result in convicted parties being sentenced to pay fines, prison, or both. The only way for victims to be awarded damages is through a civil lawsuit.

Who can make a wrongful death civil claim?

Typically, close family members of the deceased, or official executors of their estates, can bring a claim against the defendant. The intention of the wrongful death civil case is for heirs to seek damages by proving to the court that the defendant was responsible for the untimely death of the deceased. Unlike a criminal conviction, if found guilty the defendant is ordered to pay damages to the plaintiff.

What qualifies for a wrongful death claim?

If the death of a person was caused by another, then a wrongful death claim can be made. Specifically, when causation can be determined and linked to someone’s purposeful actions (or inactions if they owed a duty to the deceased) and the untimely death of an individual, close relatives or representatives of the estate can sue for damages. The exact laws determining what is or is not a proper wrongful death claim varies from state to state.

What type of damages can be recovered?

The types of damages that can be recovered by the plaintiff depends on the particular rules of the state the lawsuit is filed in. Monetary awards are normally based on the expected financial and/or moral support the plaintiff could have expected had their loved one lived. Funeral and burial expenses, which commonly cost thousands of dollars, can also be recovered by the heirs of the deceased.

Can I also sue for pain and suffering that occurred before the wrongful death?

Yes. The wrongful death itself is not the only thing you can sue to recover damages. You can also make a claim that the decedent experienced undue pain and suffering caused by the wrongful actions of the defendant before the death.

Can I recover punitive damages?

Not usually. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant so that they are less likely to repeat their wrongful acts in the future. These rulings are more like fines one would expect in a criminal case. Although some states have statutes that allow for plaintiffs to recover punitive damages.

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