If you have had the unfortunate experience of losing a loved one and it was caused by an accident—specifically someone else’s wrongful intentional act– you may have the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This process allows you to assert a claim against the at-fault party for damages to compensate you for your losses.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, the first step is to speak with an experienced lawyer who can review your potential case. Our attorneys at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman advocate on behalf of those who have lost a loved one in Rockland County or Bergen County, providing much-needed counsel through a trying time.
What qualifies as a wrongful death
Every untimely loss of a loved one may feel wrongful, but that is not what is meant by the term. Legally, it refers to the death of someone caused by the careless or intentional wrongful act of another. In other words, the defendant must be legally to blame.
Legal fault can arise in countless ways, from auto accidents to property defects to medical malpractice– to name just a few. Further, there may be one or more at-fault parties. For example, in a car accident, any of the following may bear fault:
- The driver of a vehicle whose negligent operation caused the accident
- The manufacturer of the vehicle if the failure of a part may have contributed to the crash
- A mechanic if improper maintenance played a role
- A business– if the at-fault driver was engaged in the course and scope of their job at the time of the accident
- A municipality or one or more of its contractors if a defect in the road contributed to the crash
If you have a potential claim, your lawyer will look at your situation in detail to determine the identities of all of the potentially liable parties and whether they can be included in a lawsuit.
What compensation is available in a wrongful death lawsuit
The primary type of damages awarded in wrongful death lawsuits is economic. This represents the financial losses that the family has and will incur due to their loved one’s death. Each state has its own rules as to what damages can be recovered, but they can include:
- The deceased’s lost wages and benefits throughout their expected life
- Reduced inheritance that the loved ones would have received
- The cost of replacing services, like childcare or other household duties, that the deceased performed
- The cost of reasonable medical care and funeral expenses because of the death and the injury that caused it
In some states, a wrongful death lawsuit can also include a claim for non-economic damages like the loss of care and companionship that the deceased loved one would have provided.
In some instances, there may be grounds to raise a separate but related claim known as a survival or survivorship action. A survivorship action raises the claim for conscious pain and suffering that the deceased would have been permitted to raise– if they had survived. When relevant, wrongful death lawyers work with the expert witnesses necessary to prove this claim.
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit
Only those permitted by statute may file a lawsuit for wrongful death or recover compensation. In New York, it is the immediate family members, such as a spouse, children, or parents, who can file the suit. They must request to be appointed by the court as the personal representative of the estate. They must do this before filing the lawsuit.
In New Jersey, either the executor of the will or the Administrator ad Prosequendum– in the case of a death without a will– is permitted to bring the lawsuit. Any settlement or verdict is then distributed as directed by a judge.
Litigating wrongful death
The lawsuit is started by filing a complaint with the court before the deadline– usually within two years of the death– though exceptions apply. For example, if a government entity is a defendant, there may be a different method of starting a case. Once the lawsuit is filed, the parties undergo the litigation process, including filing pleadings and motions, exchanging information in discovery, and potentially settlement negotiations. If the case is not resolved by a settlement, it could proceed to a trial.
The role of a wrongful death lawyer
Attorneys ensure the claimants follow the many legal and procedural rules that govern these lawsuits, from statutes of limitations to special orders that the judge imposes for that case. They also provide experienced advice and guidance at a time when things can be especially confusing. An experienced wrongful death lawyer builds a strong case at every step in the process to maximize a settlement or jury award.
Contact us for a confidential consultation
If you are facing the loss of a loved one in Rockland County or Bergen County, you may have questions about a wrongful death lawsuit. Reach out to a lawyer at Kantrowitz, Goldhamer & Graifman to discuss your case with a knowledgeable and compassionate attorney for free. We use our expertise to take on the big insurance companies for you so you can focus on the rest of your life.