The sudden death of a loved one can take a devastating toll on surviving family members. When you have a case of wrongful death, you may be legally entitled to file a lawsuit against the negligent party.
Who is liable for damages in a wrongful death claim or lawsuit? The at-fault party’s insurance company typically pays for damages in a wrongful death case, but someone who lacks coverage may be held personally responsible for paying for damages.
Building a Wrongful Death Case
Surviving family members or others may be able to file a wrongful death claim after a person dies due to a negligent, reckless, or intentional act of someone else. Since the deceased party is unable to file a personal injury claim for losses, certain loved ones may be able to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages.
If you are unsure how to file a wrongful death case, a personal injury lawyer can help you. A lawyer can determine whether you have a valid claim, gather evidence, and file a lawsuit on your behalf.
While the actions of the at-fault party may not have been malicious, it must be shown they acted in a way that resulted in the accident and death.
For a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, you must prove the following 4 elements:
- The defendant owed your loved one a duty of care
- The defendant acted in a way that breached that duty of care
- The breach led to an accident and injuries that caused your loved one’s death
- The death resulted in losses to you and other claimants
The at-fault party responsible for paying a wrongful death claim may be an individual, business or company, or government agency. In some wrongful death cases, multiple parties may be liable.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Each state has its own laws regarding who is allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Some states only allow certain family members, such as a surviving spouse or children, to file a claim. Meanwhile, in other states, it is up to the executor of the estate to file.
In Arkansas, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the representative of the deceased’s estate. If there is not a representative, then a claim may be filed by an heir.
Surviving heirs who may legally file a lawsuit include the following:
Types of Wrongful Death Cases and Who Pays for Damages
Numerous factors and situations may cause wrongful deaths. Who pays for a wrongful death lawsuit will depend on how your loved one was harmed and who caused his or her death.
Consider some common types of wrongful death cases and what parties may be found liable.
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of wrongful deaths in the United States. In 2021, there were 42,939 people killed in motor vehicle crashes. The majority of these fatal accidents were caused by another driver’s negligence.
The following are examples of parties who can be held liable in a fatal car accident case:
- Ridesharing or taxi companies
- Auto parts manufacturers
- Construction companies
- Government agencies
All drivers are required to hold a minimum amount of liability insurance. In most fatal car accidents, wrongful death settlements will be paid out by the insurance company.
All doctors in the US have an ethical and legal obligation to provide their patients with a high level of care. Tragically, medical errors made by medical professionals have resulted in many fatal injuries.
The following are examples of fatal medical errors:
- Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose
- Birth injuries
- Surgical errors
- Improper treatment
- Prescription errors
- Defective medical devices
- Hospital infections
If a loved one of yours died due to a medical mistake, a lawsuit may be filed against doctors, nurses, the hospital, a pharmaceutical company, or anyone else fully or partially liable. Typically, the insurance company will be the one to pay in successful wrongful death lawsuits against doctors, hospitals, or medical companies.
A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh 80,000 pounds or more. When a semi or another large truck collides with a passenger vehicle, it is usually those in the smaller car who are seriously injured or killed.
One or more of the following parties may have to pay if your loved one was killed in a truck accident:
- The trucking company: Trucking companies have an obligation to ensure the drivers that work for them are thoroughly vetted and trained. They also must regularly inspect and maintain the trucks in their fleet.
- The truck driver: Truck driver errors cause many truck accidents. This may include failure to check blind spots, distracted driving, speeding, aggressive driving, improper merging, tailgating, drowsy driving, and more.
- Mechanics: Semis and other large trucks are sometimes maintained by third-party mechanics. If a tire blowout, brake failure, and another dangerous mechanical issue caused the accident, the mechanic could be held responsible.
Manufacturers and distributors have a legal obligation to ensure that their products are safe for their intended use. Some businesses put money ahead of consumer safety. The tragic result is that defective products are the cause of many severe injuries and deaths.
The following are examples of defective products that can cause wrongful death:
- Medical devices
- Toys, car seats, strollers, and other children’s products
- Bicycles and other athletic gear
- Auto parts
- Food products and containers
- Industrial machinery
The designer, manufacturer, distributor, or retailer could be required to pay damages in wrongful death lawsuits involving their defective products.
Property owners have an obligation to keep their land and buildings safe, well-maintained, and free from hazards. Premises liability laws allow those who are harmed due to property owner negligence to pursue compensation for their losses.
Common causes of fatal accidents on another person’s property include:
- Dog or other animal attacks
- Fire accidents
- Swimming pool accidents
- Injuries from falling objects
- Amusement park accidents and more
Business or homeowners insurance policies will usually cover wrongful death if the property owner is determined to be liable.
Some fatal accidents occur while an employee is at work. When a person is killed on the job, workers’ compensation will typically pay for wrongful death damages.
Reasons for fatal work accidents include the following:
- Struck by an object
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Crushing accidents
Since workers’ comp is a no-fault system, it does not need to be proven that the employer was negligent. Collecting wrongful death benefits should be as easy as filing a claim.
A person may choose to file a wrongful death suit instead of or in addition to receiving workers’ compensation. This may be done in cases where a third party, such as a contractor, caused the wrongful death.
Types of Damages Awarded in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
When someone you love is killed due to someone else’s actions, you may have the right to recover money by means of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Filing a lawsuit serves a dual purpose: You will be holding the liable party responsible for their negligent acts. Also, you can simultaneously receive financial compensation for the loss of your loved one.
In wrongful death cases, plaintiffs may be awarded economic, non-economic, and punitive damages at times.
Economic damages are compensation for costs incurred as a result of your loved one’s accident and death.
These may include:
- Medical expenses incurred as a result of the fatal injury
- Property damage
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of household services
- Loss of financial support
The purpose of non-economic damages is to compensate for the physical and psychological distress your loved one suffered in the fatal accident, as well as the harm you have endured as a result of his or her death.
Common non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced quality of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship
Unlike economic and non-economic damages intended to reimburse you for your losses, punitive damages are awarded to punish an act of gross negligence and deter others from acting similarly.
Each state has its own laws limiting when and how punitive damages may be awarded in wrongful death cases.
How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
Typically, there are two options available when it comes to paying out a wrongful death settlement. The first is a lump sum payment, and the second is a series of payments made through a structured settlement.
Lump sum payment
When a wrongful death settlement is paid out as a lump sum, the defendant or his or her insurance company will pay the full amount with a one-time monetary payment. Once the amount has been received, the wrongful death case is considered resolved.
The benefit of a lump sum payment is that by having the money all at once. You can immediately pay down medical expenses and other debts before they begin to accrue interest.
One of the downfalls of a lump sum payment is that some people find it challenging to manage that much money all at once and may spend it unwisely before paying off debts.
Structured settlement payments
Instead of a single payment, a structured settlement is paid out in smaller installments over a period of time. Structured settlement payments are common when there is no insurance policy to cover the wrongful death claim or lawsuit. The at-fault party will continue to make regular payments, usually monthly, until the balance is paid in full.
The main benefit of structured settlement payments is that it provides financial security for the fatal accident victim’s loved ones. One downside with a structured wrongful death settlement arrangement is that you cannot immediately pay off your debts accrued by the accident.
Are Wrongful Death Settlements Taxable?
After going through the pain of losing a loved one and the stress of filing a lawsuit, it would make things worse if you had to give a large portion of your settlement over to the government.
Fortunately, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does not usually tax settlements or awards that are compensatory. This money is intended to compensate the plaintiff for losses that have already been sustained, so the payment would not be viewed as new income.
Thus, wrongful death settlements are not considered to be income and they are not taxable. Punitive damages are the exception to this rule, though, and may be taxed if awarded in a wrongful death claim.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help Ensure Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit is Paid
The last thing you should have to worry about if you have lost a family member in an accident is how to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit. If, at any time, you decide you would like help with your case, do not hesitate to contact a wrongful death attorney.
An experienced attorney can take the following steps on your behalf:
- Investigate the death: Your lawyer can conduct a thorough investigation into the cause of your loved one’s death
- Collect evidence: Your legal team can collect evidence such as police reports, eyewitness interviews, and medical records to support your wrongful death case
- Evaluate your claim: Your lawyer will ensure that your list of wrongful death damages is complete and pursue the maximum amount of settlement money possible on your behalf
- File on time: Your attorney will notify the liable party and the appropriate court and make sure everything is filed within the allowed statute of limitations time frame
- Negotiate a settlement: Your attorney will negotiate with the liable party or the insurance company representing them
- Provide support: The wrongful death lawyers at Minton Law will answer any questions you have and offer legal guidance and support during this difficult time
Get Help With Your Wrongful Death Lawsuit Today
The party who pays in a wrongful death suit varies from case to case. Insurance policies will cover wrongful death in some situations. The insurance company may deny the claim, or the policy may be insufficient to fully cover damages.
An experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you with every aspect of your claim and ensure you receive the full compensation you deserve. At Minton Law, we have handled many wrongful death cases and have helped our clients recover settlements of over $1 million.
Our law firm handles all wrongful death claims on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not have to pay any upfront costs or fees. We only get paid if your case is successful and you are awarded a settlement.
Contact our law offices today to schedule a free consultation. Call us 24/7 at 855-Xadjuster or complete the online contact form. We proudly serve Little Rock – Pulaski County – Arkansas, Benton – Saline County – Arkansas, and Conway – Faulkner County – Arkansas.