When a person dies in an automobile accident due to the negligence, deliberate action or misconduct of another driver, the members of that victim's family may sue the other party for wrongful death. In general, a wrongful death suit follows after a criminal trial and uses similar evidence, but it is not necessary for the defendant to be convicted of a crime to be liable for civil damages in a separate lawsuit. Here is an overview of the elements that may come into play during a wrongful death lawsuit.
Elements of the Wrongful Death Suit
In order to file for wrongful death in a civil case, there are several elements that have to be present. These include the following:
- Someone has to die due to an accident or through the actions of another person
- The other person acted deliberately or negligently to cause or contribute to the victim's death
- Surviving family members are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death
- There must be a duly appointed personal representative for the deceased person's estate, and that person must bring the suit.
Standard of Proof
As stated previously, these suits often follow criminal trials, but this is not always the case, nor does a person have to be found guilty of a crime to be liable for damages in this kind of suit. In fact, the standard of proof in a civil case is often much lower than it is in a criminal case, where reasonable doubt is enough to find a defendant not guilty.
Determining and Awarding Damages
The appointed personal representative for the decedent (the deceased) must bring the suit for wrongful death and such factors as pain and suffering, personal injury or medical expenses prior to death. Any damages awarded will go to the decedent's estate, and may then be distributed to different people based on instructions in the deceased person's will.
In general, the compensation in a suit for wrongful death will be pecuniary, as determined by a measure of direct financial damages. This can include loss of support and services, lost inheritance and the like. The major portions of recovery, in general, can include such things as:
- Income loss
- Medical expenses prior to death
- Funeral expenses
- Adjustments based on the decedent's age, character, earning capacity, health, intelligence and life expectancy as well as interest from the date of death.
- Punitive Damages (in cases of malicious acts or severe negligence)
Survival actions are awarded as an addition to wrongful death. These actions are essentially personal injury awards for such things as pain and suffering and are based on the degree of suffering and consciousness the decedent experienced before death.
Pursuing a wrongful death suit is a tricky and complex process, and you should never try to undertake it alone. Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to ensure that you avoid all the legal pitfalls and have all of your rights protected. If you are in the North Florida area and have lost a loved one in a car accident, read a bit about our services, and give us a call for a free consultation today or email us through our contact page.