Wrongful death is the term used when someone causes the death of another person. The death may be caused by the actions of someone or by their failure to act (neglect). Wrongful death is a civil action rather than a criminal action. Since the person killed (decedent) cannot file suit or collect damages, it is the family or representatives of the estate that do so. The intent is to recompense family members who have suffered monetarily and emotionally from the death. Damages can be assessed for lost wages and benefits, loss of companionship, and emotional pain and suffering caused by the trauma.
A defendant can only be held responsible for a wrongful death if it can be proved that the defendant’s conduct was the cause of the death. It must be proved that the death would not have occurred without the defendant’s act. The time between the defendant’s action and the death of the decedent is not a factor as long as it can be proved that the defendant’s action was the cause of death.
If it can be shown that the decedent was partially responsible for his death, then he may be found to have comparative or contributory negligence and dependent upon the state in which the incident occurred, damages may be awarded based on the percentage of negligence imputed to the decedent. Also, if the decedent failed to seek appropriate medical care and that failure led to his death, there may be no grounds for a wrongful death claim or a reduction to an award.
Different states have different methods for deciding who may file a wrongful death suit and who may recover damages. Generally, it must be shown that the death was caused by another’s wrongful act; that the act was such that the decedent would have been due damages from the act; and that monetary damages did arise from the act. If these three criteria are met, it is possible that a wrongful death claim can be filed.
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