How a Wrongful Death Claim Could Affect a Decedent’s Estate
If a person dies due to the negligence or intentional violent act of another party, the victim’s remaining family members may be able to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of their loved one. Wrongful death claims can be very complex and every state has legislation that pertains to filing a claim. These lawsuits are typically filed by a personal injury lawyer on behalf of the decedent’s living family members.
There are many types of accidents that could justify a wrongful death claim. Auto accidents, construction accidents, medical malpractice, and product liability accidents are all examples of potential wrongful death causes. Even an intentional violent act could be grounds for a wrongful death claim, in addition to criminal charges.
Who can file a wrongful death?
Certain surviving family members may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim for their lost loved one. Each state has restrictions on who may be eligible to file a claim. In most cases, claimants may include the victim’s surviving spouse or children. Some states allow for grandparents, siblings, or life partners to file a claim. Individuals who were financially dependant on the deceased may also be eligible, even if they were not related. If several individuals wish to pursue a wrongful death claim for their loved one, these are usually combined into a single claim.
Damages in a wrongful death case
The wrongful death act in each state also sets forth what types of damages that the estate of a deceased person can recover. Those generally include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of the decedent’s future earnings
- Emotional damages suffered by the victim(s)
- Loss of consortium
The general rule is that for purposes of distribution of a wrongful death award, whether or not the decedent had a will is usually irrelevant. In most cases, any award is distributed as if the decedent died without a will.
The survival action
If an individual does not pass away immediately following his/her injuries, the survival action might be relevant. A survival action permits the representative of the decedent’s estate to seek damages that the decedent might have been entitled to had he or she lived. It may also provide a sum of money as compensation for the pain and suffering that the decedent experienced while, following the accident, while still alive.
Damages that may be awarded in a survival action vary widely from state to state, but they generally include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost earnings until time of death
- Punitive damages
For an estate to bring a survival count in a wrongful death case, the decedent need only have survived for a brief interval between time of the accident and the moment of death. Depending on the state, other damages like pain and suffering, temporary disability and fright suffered before death might also be sought. Any damages awarded in a survival action are distributed in accordance with the decedent’s will or trust. If no estate plan was in place, they’re likely distributed pursuant to statute as if he or she had no will. The process of distributing the award can often come with a great deal of obstacles and legal hurdles, and every situation is different. For professional guidance in these complex matters, it is often a good idea to consult with an experienced estate lawyer Sacramento relies on.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Yee Law Group for their insight into estate planning after a wrongful death case.