There is nothing in the world more difficult than coping with the loss of a loved one. But when the loved one is taken away by the negligence or intentional conduct of another, the pain can be overwhelming.
If a person is killed as the result of another’s negligence or other bad act, the decedent’s heirs and other beneficiaries may have a claim for a wrongful death action against those responsible for the decedent’s death. Wrongful death statutes vary from state to state, but in general, the statutes define who may sue for wrongful death and what, if any, limits may be applied to an award of damages.
A wrongful death action is separate and apart from criminal charges. In order to sue for wrongful death, it must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the acts or omissions of the defendant were the proximate cause of the decedent’s death. This means, for example, that a defendant acquitted of murder may be sued in a civil action by the victim’s family for wrongful death.
Some examples of wrongful death defendants include a driver of an automobile who unintentionally caused the death of another or an individual that neglected to enclose a swimming pool to which a child was attracted and drowned.
Wrongful death statutes do not apply to an unborn fetus, as an individual does not have a distinct legal status until the infant is born alive. If an infant is born alive and later dies as a result of an injury that occurred prior to birth, even if only seconds or minutes after birth, an action may be brought for wrongful death.
Determining the amount of damages in a wrongful death action requires the taking into account of many variables. Punitive damages may also be available in a wrongful death case if the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or egregious.