Wrongful Death: Definition, Statistics, and the Importance of Hiring an Attorney

Rising for another work day, Mr. Brown cannot possibly know the tragedy that awaits him and his family. In just a few hours, Mr. Brown will die due to the fault and negligence of another person representing a manufacturing company, creating deep grief, financial nightmares, and abiding questions as to why this young family man had to perish as he did. The mourning begins, the questions remain, anger follows, and justice is coveted by the remaining family members. They probably have a wrongful death lawsuit, but like most families who have suffered similar and unnecessary passing of a loved one, are unsure of the next steps to take.

Wrongful Death Definition and Statistics

But first, what is considered a wrongful death? Simply put, it is The taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or person.  Sadly, these are on the rise in the United States. There are an estimated 200,000 preventable deaths that occur each year, which includes:

  • 90,000 medical malpractice deaths – Death caused by a medical professional, or its direct vendors and affiliates, such as prescribing the wrong medication, or having a patient unnecessarily die on an operating table.
  • 45,000 motor vehicle deaths – Death caused by a road traffic accident through careless driving or negligence of another
  • 6,000 workplace related deaths – Equipment breaking causing a death
  • 20,000 unsafe premises deaths – Deaths caused by slip-and-falls

Recent Notable Wrongful Deaths

Notable examples of wrongful death in the news recently include the shooting that occurred at Virginia Tech in 2007 when a deranged student opened fire across campus killing many students. Recently, two of the Virginia Tech victims’ families won $8 million in a successful suit. The recent Colorado movie theater shooting may bring about lawsuits, as could the Sikh Temple shootings.

Other examples include a Maryland truck driver who, while backing up his rig, knocked over a forklift which crushed its operator, leading to a wrongful death suit. Additionally, a bar in Washington state was sued after serving an intoxicated man who later that night killed someone while driving his car. As well, a nursing home in Missouri failed to properly monitor medication of a patient who died from an overdose.

Who May Sue?

Each state has statutes enumerating who may sue. Typically, most statutes provide recovery by a surviving spouse, next of kin, or children. Some states permit a surviving spouse to bring an action even in the event of a separation, but not if the surviving spouse was guilty of desertion or failure to provide support. Children may bring about a lawsuit, as parents can for their kids. Select states prohibit parents from bringing a suit on behalf of their married adult child. Some states prohibit independent children from bringing a suit. The complexities of understanding your rights and how your state interprets the law is a very compelling reason for involving an attorney in the beginning.

However, in order to be able to successfully sue for wrongful death, it must be proven that the acts or omissions of the defendant were the proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries and death. This means that the defendant’s wrongful conduct must have created a natural, direct series of events that led to the injury.

Wrongful Death Damages – what can be awarded?

Each state has laws on what can be recovered by the family members. Compensatory wrongful death damages can vary widly, are the most common awarded, and are intended to make restitution for financial loss that was a direct result of a negligent or willful act. Wrongful death lawsuit winners can expect the award to include coverage for medical and funeral expenses, as well as compensation for lost wages they would have earned to provide for their family, including child support, and, in some instances, provide a sum determined to compensate for grief and loss of companionship. Each case is unique, so there are no set amounts, though some states set a ceiling on what can be awarded.

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Photo source: http://i.imgur.com/rl1x7A2.jpg

The Importance of Hiring a Wrongful Death Attorney

If you have a loved one that fits into any of these categories, and there are more, it is best not to tangle alone with the insurance companies who know fiduciary interest to pay out monies on your claim.

A personal injury attorney specializing in wrongful death law suits will protect your family’s rights and those of the deceased’s estate, keep insurance companies honest and fair, and make sure your family gets what they deserve financially. Just remember if you lost a family member due to the fault and negligence of another, do not try to take on the insurance companies alone. Seek out an experienced attorney and let them represent you.

We are dedicated to seeing justice served in wrongful death cases in South Carolina.

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