What is wrongful death? According to the legal dictionary section of The Free Dictionary, a wrongful death is “the taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.” Individuals, companies, and government agencies may be sued for wrongful death by survivors of the victim.

The laws governing wrongful death lawsuits differ from one state to another. Basically, the laws declare who has the right to sue and the maximum amount of damages that may be awarded.

Examples of Wrongful Death Cases

Keeping in mind the definition, here are some possible situations in which the victim’s survivors may sue for wrongful death:

  • A drunk driver loses control of her car and crashes into another car, killing someone in that car.
  • A man gets into a fight in a bar and punches someone, causing the person to hit his head when he falls against a table; the man later dies of his head injury.
  • An elderly woman in a nursing home dies from sepsis that develops after she gets bedsores, which could have been prevented had the nursing home staff turned her on a regular basis.

Who May and May Not Sue?

Each state has a law that spells out who may sue for wrongful death, but generally, surviving beneficiaries of the victim may sue. An exception in many states is family immunity, in which an individual may not be sued by another member of his or her family.

In some states, sovereign immunity prevents individuals from suing government agencies or employees. In states that do allow people to sue the government for wrongful death, the plaintiff must follow strict rules that include immediately notifying the government about the impending lawsuit and filing the notice within the period specified by the state.

What Type of Damages Can Be Awarded?

The amount of damages that may be awarded varies by state. Compensatory damages are meant to reimburse the family for any money lost because of the victim’s death. Nolo.com cites three types of damages:

Economic damages, including the following:

  • medical bills associated with the event that led to the death;
  • funeral expenses;
  • an amount equivalent to the amount of economic support the family would have received if the victim had survived;
  • loss of benefits, such as insurance policies and pension plans;
  • loss of an inheritance because of the death; and
  • the value of goods and services that the victim would have provided had he or she survived.

Non-economic damages may include the following:

  • damages for survivors’ mental pain and suffering;
  • loss of the care, protection, guidance, advice, training, and nurturing that would have been provided by the victim;
  • loss of companionship; and
  • loss of consortium for the spouse.

Punitive damages are sometimes awarded if the actions of the defendant were exceptionally irresponsible or heinous. These damages are meant to punish the defendant. The jury decides whether punitive damages should be awarded, and the state’s law determines how the damages will be distributed among the survivors.

Did your loved one die as a result of someone else’s action or inaction? You need a wrongful death attorney in Louisville. Call Gray and White Law at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 to set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.

Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law