Wrongful death claims: What to do if a family member has been a victim of wrongful death

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, all unintentional injury deaths (other than medical error deaths) in 2017 accounted for 169,936 deaths. Out of these, unintentional deaths due to falls were 36,338; due to motor vehicle accidents were 40,231 and due to poisoning were 64,795.

Besides these, estimates indicate that 90,000 deaths occurred due to medical errors. More than a quarter million deaths can be classified as unintentional deaths or wrongful deaths where the negligence of others caused the death of the victim. 

Wrongful deaths fall under personal injury law and legal survivors of the deceased victim can claim compensation, advises wrongful death specialist, Jonathan Rosenfeld. The compensation claimed can cover medical expenses, funeral expenses, damages from future lost wages, pain, suffering and loss of love and compassion.

The compensation can be claimed only if the victim’s surviving family members or legal representatives file a claim within the prescribed time limit following set procedures which can vary from state to state. The following tips can help survivors file a claim and take the process forward.

Know the law

Each state has its own laws regarding wrongful death claims, and they could differ from state to state. For instance, most states permit close surviving family members of the victim and legal representative of the victim’s estate to make the claim. Some states also permit other classes of people associated with the deceased victim to also make a claim. Most states permit the claim to be made jointly or singly. Typically, most states have a two-year time limit from the date of death within which the claim has to be made. Even the contours of compensation permitted can differ from state to state. Some states allow lifetime earning potential of the deceased victim to be recovered.

It is advisable to consult a wrongful death attorney to help you understand the process of making a claim.

Collect relevant evidence

The victim’s family members making the claim should record the relevant incident that led to the death of the victim. For instance, if it was a medical error, all medical records, diagnoses, medications, treatment plans, discharge summaries, medical bills, surgeon’s bills and other relevant information must be itemized and submitted as evidence. Here, they can make use of modern gadgets such as a smartphone to capture photographic evidence wherever relevant (very relevant for death in road accidents). They can also submit witness statements.

The claimants must prove intentional harm, recklessness or negligence that caused the death and not any of the victim’s actions. They can also collect evidence to show breach of duty. Similarly, they must prove that the victim’s death caused suffering, emotional damage and financial loss to them. The claim should be able to furnish all relevant records pertaining to the deceased victim’s job details, income, future prospects, family size and standing in the society. 

Appoint a qualified wrongful death attorney

As mentioned, there is a certain procedure to be followed to make a claim for wrongful death. Though surviving members are coping with the tragedy, they have to proceed with the preparations for making a claim. It is advisable to hire a qualified wrongful death attorney who can take over the complete claim process. Typically, the attorney would not charge fees but seek a percentage of the claim awarded. Most attorneys will not claim any fees if no compensation is awarded. Further, the attorney can help negotiate an out of court settlement more often than not (90% of claims do not go to trial).

The key points to remember for family members of deceased victims making a claim of wrongful death is to collect details of the incident leading to the death of the victim, create the necessary documents of evidence, appoint a qualified wrongful death attorney and make the claim well within the time limit specified.