Do I Have a Wrongful Death Claim?

Posted by: Feb 14, 2019Articles & Advice

The death of a loved one is something that every person experiences at some point in their life. Typically, this is a result of natural occurrences, such as old age.

Sometimes, however, a person dies well before their time as the result of a serious accident. When this happens, surviving family members may have numerous questions about their rights and options.

They will experience a plethora of feelings and emotions about the death, and anxieties about the future. Anxieties include how to afford the medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and future costs of living.

At the office of Sabbeth Law, our wrongful death lawyers in New Hampshire and Vermont understand how devastating it can be to lose a family member. If you believe that your loved one’s death would not have occurred but for another party’s negligence, you may have a wrongful death claim for damages.

Our compassionate lawyers can guide you through the legal system. We will represent your best interests as you file a wrongful death claim. Call us today for a free consultation and to learn more about how we can help.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death action is a type of civil suit. It results from a death that is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another. In this regard, a wrongful death claim very much resembles a standard negligence-based personal injury claim. The main difference is the fact that the victim’s injuries resulted in death.

It is important to note that wrongful death claims are civil cases, not criminal ones. This means that there will be no criminal penalties for a person who is convicted of wrongful death, and that the burden of proof in a civil wrongful death claim is much lower than it is in a criminal homicide case. Similarly, a person who is convicted of the death of another in criminal court will not have civil repercussions in so far as that they will not owe the family members of the decedent any monetary compensation.

Common Types of Wrongful Death Actions

There are dozens of different types of accidents that can be severe enough to lead to death. You may have a wrongful death claim if your loved one was killed by another negligence or wrongful act, regardless of the accident type. Common types of wrongful death actions that are lawyers are familiar with include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents;
  • Pedestrian accidents;
  • Bicycle accidents;
  • Dangerous premises accidents;
  • Medical malpractice claims;
  • Workplace accidents; and
  • Defective product accidents.

You may still have a claim even if your loved one wasn’t killed in an accident type listed above. Call our office to learn more.

What Do I Have to Prove?

In order to win a wrongful death claim, there are a number of elements that you must establish by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that you must prove that your claims are “more likely than not” to be true. The primary elements of a wrongful death suit include:

  • Duty of care. You must first prove that the other party owed a duty of care to your loved one. This is almost always implied, as all persons have a duty of care to act in a reasonable manner that does not endanger others.
  • Breach of duty of care. Proving a breach of the duty of care requires proving that the defendant acted in a wrongful or neglectful way that was outside of the realm of care that they owed the defendant. Examples of this might include performing the wrong operation on a patient, driving while drunk, maintaining a premise with a dangerous hazard, and more.
  • Even if the defendant clearly did breach the duty of care owed to your loved one, you will not win your suit unless you can also prove that the breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of your loved one’s accident and death. For example, you must prove that the car accident that ended your loved one’s life would not have occurred but for the fact that the other driver, who hit your loved one, was drunk at the time the crash happened.
  • Clearly, the death of a person itself is a significant type of harm. In addition to death, you will also need to prove that you have also suffered other damages (for which you are claiming compensation), such as funeral expenses, medical expenses, and other economic and noneconomic losses.

Types of Damages Recoverable

Surviving family members and beneficiaries deserve financial compensation when the death of a loved one is caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party. While nothing can truly make up for a loved one’s loss of life, financial compensation can help a family move forward and afford the numerous expenses incurred after death. In Vermont, types of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death claim include:

  • All funeral and burial expenses;
  • All medical expenses incurred by the decedent prior to death;
  • The loss of the deceased’s wages, benefits, and earning capacity; and
  • The value of the loss of household services offered by the deceased, including companionship, protection, household chores, and more.

In some cases, but less commonly, punitive damages may also be available. Punitive damages are not designed to compensate beneficiaries for their losses, but are instead intended to punish the defendant for their actions. Punitive damages are only awarded in claims where the defendant acted against the deceased recklessly, wantonly, or with intent or oppression.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim

The proceeds of a wrongful death claim are intended to benefit the deceased’s beneficiaries, such as a surviving spouse, children, or another dependent, including parents, adult children, or siblings. However, the claim itself may only be filed by the personal representative of the deceased. Typically, this is the party who is named as such in the decedent’s will; if there is no one named as the personal representative, the court may assign a personal representative.

Time Limits for Filing

Filing a wrongful death suit within the required time limit in Vermont is critical; if not, then your right to wrongful death damages may be forfeited. The time limits for filing a wrongful death claim depend, in part, on whether or not criminal charges have been brought against the defendant. If criminal charges have been brought, then civil wrongful death charges must be filed within seven years of the date that charges were filed against the defendant, or within two years of the date of conviction in a criminal case. If the defendant is outside of the state after the accident that results in death occurs, then a civil case must be filed against the defendant within two years of their return to Vermont. In all other cases, a two-year limit from the date of death (not the date of accident) applies.

Note that if you are in New Hampshire and are filing a New Hampshire wrongful death claim, the laws for wrongful death differ slightly. Most notably, the statute of limitations in a New Hampshire wrongful death action is six years from the date of the decedent’s death (Section 556:11 of New Hampshire Code).

How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help

Losing a loved one is an extremely trying event. The fact that the death was sudden, unexpected, and completely preventable but for another party’s negligence makes it even more difficult. As you grieve your loved one’s death, the thought of filing a wrongful death claim and navigating the legal system may seem daunting, if not impossible.

When you work with a skilled wrongful death lawyer, you will find comfort in the fact that your lawyer will handle all elements of your case on your behalf, including investigating your case, calculating damages, hiring experts, and filing the appropriate paperwork. Your attorney can also negotiate a settlement, or file a lawsuit if necessary. As your attorney manages your case, you can focus on the things that are most important in your life, including continuing to take care of yourself and your family members, coping with your grief and loss, and putting together a plan for the future.

Our Lawyers Are Here to Serve You

If you have lost a loved one, our legal team wants to help you. We know that you have a lot on your plate right now. From planning a funeral to sorting through medical bills to coping with your own emotions and more. We want to make the process a little bit easier, and provide you the quality legal counsel that you deserve

When you call our team, we will review your case free of charge and get to work on your wrongful death claim immediately. We serve clients in both Vermont and New Hampshire, and are well-versed in the laws and regulations of both states. Please get in contact with us today to get started.