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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 – the same action may result in a wrongful death claim and a manslaughter charge.
In personal injury law, because the decedent (the person killed) is unable to take action against those responsible for the death, surviving family members and/or estate representatives do so. This serves to rectify the damages caused by the death.
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 actions of the defendant. Interestingly, if these conditions can be met, it makes no difference how much time has elapsed between the actions of the defendant and the death.
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 injury. This is called “comparative” or “contributory” negligence, depending on the state. In these states, damages are awarded based on the percentage of negligence found on the parts of all involved.
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 and death expenses. These are usually determined without much difficulty or dispute.
Next are the future earnings and benefits of the descendant. 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 defendants actions were intentional or grossly negligent.
If you or a loved one is in need of legal assistance, call Reeves & Mestayer, PLLC at 228-374-5151 or toll free 1-855-558-2977 or contact us online. 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. In many cases, a lawsuit must be filed before an applicable expiration date, known as a statute of limitations. Please call right away to ensure that you do not waive your right to possible compensation.