Losing a loved one is bitter, but the sting is even worse when your loved one passed needlessly, senselessly due to the negligence of another person: A careless driver texting at the wheel. A doctor who missed an obvious diagnosis. A nursing home staff member who gave your loved one the wrong medication. A poorly maintained work area led to the fatal slip and fall accident.
Whatever the negligence that contributed to your loved one’s death, there is recourse through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Is it Wrong to Sue? Money Won’t Bring my Loved One Back
We agree, but that is not the purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit. Wrongful death lawsuits can help accomplish the following:
- Recover financial losses (for medical bills related to the wrongful death, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages if the deceased contributed to the household income, or loss of care, nurturing, and companionship)
- Recover compensation for the pain and suffering that the wrongful death unleashed
- Serve as a deterrent for further negligent behavior
- Obtain justice on behalf of the deceased
The bottom line is that if the at-fault party had been fulfilling their duty, you would not be dealing with any of these losses. You would not be paying for a funeral or trying to make ends meet without your loved ones income or walking through the deep grief of premature loss. With wrongful death lawsuits, the legal system provides a way for you to deal with this injustice.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
Acts of negligence that lead to the death of another, the most common of which include car and semi-truck accidents, medical malpractice, work accidents, pedestrian accidents, and defective products (think defective airbags or car tires).
In addition to negligent acts, intentional acts can also contribute to wrongful death. Claims against intentional wrongful death often accompany criminal charges, but they are prosecuted with key differences:
- With criminal charges, guilt must be established beyond a reasonable doubt–a very high bar. With a wrongful death charge in a civil court, the fault may be established with a preponderance of the evidence.
- Wrongful death charges result exclusively in financial compensation, whereas criminal prosecutions can lead to jail time, charges levied by the state, probation, etc.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The wrongful death claim can be filed by the deceased heirs. In Utah, the “deceased heirs” include the surviving spouse, surviving children (including adoptive children), and surviving parents (including adoptive parents). Surviving stepchildren can also file if they were under age 18 at the time of the wrongful death and were financially dependent on the deceased. If none of these relatives are alive to bring the suit, other blood relatives may be eligible.
The suit may also be filed by the executor of the deceased person’s estate, but the award will go to the deceased person’s surviving family members.
There is some gray area for wrongful death lawsuit heirs when it comes to life partners vs. spouses, children/stepchildren above the age of 18, grandchildren, etc. Talk to a wrongful death attorney to learn what Utah law says about your particular situation.
When Should I File my Wrongful Death Claim?
In Utah, the statute of limitations dictates that you must submit your wrongful death claim within two years of the death date. However, if you are suing a government entity, the claim must be submitted within one year.
Is my Wrongful Death Case Strong Enough?
This is a question for an experienced wrongful death lawyer. The initial threshold for a wrongful death case is that someone had a duty of care and failed to perform it, and your loved one died due to their breach of duty. You must also show that you suffered damages due to your loved one’s death.
While we see dramatic courtroom scenes in the movies, the truth is that most wrongful death cases play out with an attorney in their office compiling evidence from medical reports, police reports, financial reports, witness interviews, etc.
You can strengthen your case by providing your attorney with as much evidence as possible. This could include medical records (including autopsies), accident reports, witness accounts, photos, videos, your own documentation of the events contributing to the death, financial documents to show your income loss due to the death, etc.
Will I Have to go to Trial for my Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The majority of wrongful death cases are settled outside of the courtroom, with the defendant agreeing to pay out a settlement amount that the plaintiff deems acceptable.
If an acceptable settlement cannot be reached, then your case may proceed to court. Going to court can bring a bigger reward, but it will also lengthen the process considerably. And there’s always a chance that you could lose the case and not receive any compensation.
If you are worried about testifying in court, remember that preparation can make a big difference. Your wrongful death lawyer can work with you and prepare you for what lies ahead so that you can feel more calm and confident on the stand.
Unfortunately, your lawyer can’t mitigate the emotions that may accompany the trial, and many people dread having to rehash the painful details of their loved one’s death. With the attorneys’ help, you can weigh the challenges of going to court with the benefits of pursuing just compensation and defending justice on behalf of your loved one.
Need more information on pursuing your lawsuit? Our Salt Lake City wrongful death lawyers can help you weigh the merits of your case and know the next steps to take on your legal journey.