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In civil law, the term for one person causing the death of another is “wrongful death.” The death may be due to intentional actions or unintentional inactions (negligence). Do not confuse civil and criminal classifications – a wrongful death civil claim for monetary damages can be brought against the person or party responsible for someone’s death, even if there is a simultaneous criminal proceeding for the same death.
In personal injury law, because the decedent (the person killed) is unable to take action against those responsible for their death, surviving family members and/or estate representatives do so. This serves to rectify the damages caused by the death.
At Reeves & Mestayer, we have several years of experience successfully representing surviving loved ones for wrongful death civil claims in Mississippi. Our lawyers have extensive knowledge of this area of the law, and we work closely with our clients to help their loved ones receive justice. While no amount of money can bring back someone who was close to you, obtaining full and fair compensation can help ease the suffering and ensure that those responsible for your loved one’s untimely death are held fully accountable.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Mississippi
A successful wrongful death suit is dependent on proof that the actions of the defendant directly caused the death. Stated differently, it must be shown that the death would never have occurred without the actions of the defendant.
In some cases, responsibility for the death may not be all or nothing. The decedent may be found partially responsible for his/her own death, reducing the degree of responsibility of the defendant. This may happen if the decedent acted recklessly or refused to seek medical attention after an injury. This is called “comparative” or “contributory” negligence, depending on the state.
Mississippi is a pure comparative negligence state. This means that, even if the decedent was 99% responsible for their death, they can still recover damages. The downside is that damage awards are reduced in proportion to the percentage of fault the decedent shares.
Using this example, if the total amount of damages was $1 million and the decedent is determined to be 99% at fault, the damage award going to qualified survivors would be reduced to down to just $10,000. This is one of the many reasons it is important to retain strong legal counsel when bringing a wrongful death claim, so you are able to put together a rock-solid case that positions you to recover the maximum amount of compensation available.
Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Claim in Mississippi?
As mentioned earlier, a wrongful death lawsuit is filed by either the personal representative of the decedent’s estate or a qualified surviving family member. If the decedent had a will, a personal representative would have been named to execute the final affairs of the estate. If there is no will, a personal representative is appointed by the court.
Aside from the personal representative of the estate, the following family members are allowed to bring a wrongful death claim:
- Surviving spouses
- Surviving children or parents
- Surviving siblings
Regardless of who files the claim, other interested parties may join the lawsuit after it is filed. In addition, any damages received are divided in accordance with Mississippi law:
- If there is a surviving spouse and no children, the spouse receives everything;
- If there is a surviving spouse and children, the damage award is divided equally between them;
- If there are children but no surviving spouse, damages are divided equally between the children;
- If there is no surviving spouse and no surviving children, damages are divided equally between surviving parents and siblings.
Damages Available for Wrongful Death Claims
Damages in a wrongful death case are awarded to compensate family members for their loss(es). These damages may be calculated in various ways, and in several different areas.
The clearest and most easily assessed loss is the cost of medical bills and death (e.g., funeral and burial) expenses. These are usually determined without much difficulty or dispute.
Next are the future earnings and benefits of the decedent. These damages are more speculative and therefore more difficult to calculate. Courts factor expected lifespan, career and promotion, and overall earnings into this estimate.
Loss of companionship is even more subjective, speculative, and not easily quantified. Though it is not empirically measurable, it is undeniably real: a measure of the emotional pain and suffering experienced by the survivors.
Finally, the court may assign punitive damages. These damages are assigned exclusively to punish the person responsible for the death. There is no intention to compensate for a specific loss. Typically, punitive damages are assigned only when the defendant’s actions were intentional, malicious or grossly negligent.
It is important to note that Mississippi places a limit or cap on various types of damages in a wrongful death case. Non-economic damages, those we discussed previously that are intangible and more difficult to quantify (e.g., mental anguish, psychological distress, and loss of companionship, care, and protection) are capped for certain types of claims:
- Product Liability: $1 million
- Pharmaceutical: $1 million
- Medical Malpractice: $500,000
Punitive damages are also capped using a complex formula that is based on the net worth of the defendant.
Mississippi Statute of Limitations in Wrongful Death Cases
There are two separate deadlines to be aware of in Mississippi if you are considering bringing a wrongful death claim, and the one that applies to your case depends on the actions of the defendant that resulted in your loved one’s death.
If the death was caused by an intentional act, such as assault with a deadly weapon, then the time limit in which to file a claim is just one year from the date of death. If the act that caused the death was negligent but unintentional, then you have three years from the date of death to file the claim. Speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer and soon as possible to review your loved one’s case, determine which deadline applies to you, and discuss your legal rights and options.
Contact a Knowledgeable and Compassionate Mississippi Wrongful Death Attorney
If you lost a loved one because of the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another person or party, call Reeves & Mestayer, PLLC at 228-374-5151 or toll free 1-855-558-2977, or message us online to schedule a free consultation and case assessment.
The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary recovery of funds. As mentioned in the previous section, in many cases, a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date/statute of limitations. Please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.