Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult and emotional moments that a person can experience. When that death is due to negligence from another individual, that pain and emotional stress can multiply. In addition to this pain, sudden and unexpected deaths can cause significant financial stress. Forty percent of Americans can’t afford an unexpected expense of $400. The average cost of a funeral alone is over $7,000 in Louisiana, and those costs don’t include hospital bills, lost wages, and all the other tangible and intangible costs associated with early and wrongful deaths.
To help alleviate these costs, many surviving family members of wrongfully deceased individuals pursue wrongful death cases. But what are wrongful death cases, and what kinds of damage can you pursue from a negligent defendant?
A wrongful death case is a type of lawsuit filed against a defendant who has caused a person’s death — either through intention or negligence. Unlike criminal charges related to a person’s death, wrongful death lawsuits are handled in civil court and involve monetary compensation. Wrongful death suits are filed by family members of the deceased, most often by a representative of the deceased person’s estate.
There are plenty of famous examples of wrongful death lawsuits. From O.J. Simpson to Aaliyah and Nancy Grace, multiple headline-grabbing wrongful death cases have captured the public’s attention. But most wrongful death cases don’t grab this kind of public attention. Each year, medical malpractice alone contributes to over 200,000 deaths. And malpractice only constitutes a small percentage of wrongful death cases. To help illustrate the scale and scope of wrongful death suits, let’s look at some common wrongful death suits filed after an individual dies in an automobile accident. All of the following may be partially or fully at-fault for the accident:
- An at-fault driver in another car
- A manufacturer who produced a faulty car part
- A mechanic who improperly installed a car part
- A government agent who failed to put proper roadway signage
- A designer of faulty roadways
- A bartender who served alcohol to an impaired driver
In other words, wrongful death lawsuits can apply to a variety of individuals in a variety of situations.
Who Files A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death lawsuits can’t be filed by anyone. Usually, only the direct family of the deceased has the legal capacity to file these claims. Each state has unique wrongful death rules. In Louisiana, wrongful death lawsuits can be pursued by immediate family members of the diseased, including:
The estate of the deceased individual may also bring a lawsuit in the absence of any surviving direct family members. Additionally, Louisiana Article 2315.2 specifies that wrongful death cases must be filed in a one-year period since the date of the deceased individual’s death.
Remember, each state has unique rules. Some states don’t allow siblings to file wrongful death cases, while others allow cousins to file the case on behalf of the deceased. If you live outside of Louisiana, you should get in touch with a personal injury lawyer that specializes in your area.
What Types of Damages Can Be Recovered in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Wrongful death cases involve both economic and non-economic costs. Obviously, deaths result in immediately recognizable costs like hospital bills and funeral expenses, but there are also many additional costs associated with wrongful deaths — since they often involve people who were still capable of earning an income and providing for their families through money or care. Common economic damages in wrongful death lawsuits include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages and lost earning potential
- Damages related to property damage
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering (also called a “survival” claim)
- Loss of any inheritance
In addition to these purely economic damages, surviving family members may also pursue non-economic damages such as loss of emotional support and guidance. This is called “loss of consortium.” When a family member dies an untimely death, the surviving family suffers intangible losses. These losses include pain and suffering, loss of love and companionship, loss of sexual relations, emotional distress, reputation damage, mental anguish, and loss of companionship.
Who Can and Can’t Be Defendants in Wrongful Death Lawsuits
There are plenty of parties that can be considered at-fault for wrongful death. A doctor, nurse, attendee, or nursing resident can be at-fault for medical malpractice. But so can a pharmaceutical company, hospital system, or even an equipment manufacturer. It’s important to discuss the details of your case with your personal injury lawyer. They can help you understand the complexities involved in your case and which parties may be liable for the unfortunate death of your loved one.
Unfortunately, some parties are immune to wrongful death cases. Typically, these parties are government entities. Many government agencies and employees have sovereign immunity to many lawsuits — including wrongful death claims. However, this immunity may be withdrawn in certain circumstances, so you should consult your lawyer for more details. There are also unique and niche circumstances where another party may have immunity. For example, manufacturers of generic drugs may be immune to wrongful death suits since the FDA approved the brand name version of the drug. Again, contact your lawyer to learn more.
Get in Touch With A Personal Injury Lawyer
Every wrongful death lawsuit is unique. The damages from your claim are specific to your case. Calculating economic damages requires an in-depth review of your case, including bills, statements, and expenses. Calculating any non-economic damages such as loss of consortium is even more challenging. Your personal injury lawyer will need to do a deep-dive analysis of the circumstances of your loved one’s death. It’s important to work with a highly-experienced personal injury lawyer that has a thorough understanding of Louisiana law. At AKD, we may be able to help you find the compensation you deserve after the unexpected and undeserved death of your loved one. Contact us online or at 504-200-0000 for a free consultation.