When someone loses his or her life because of the actions of another person, the victim’s family can often bring a wrongful death claim against the wrongdoer. Generally speaking, only immediate family members can assert a wrongful death claim, but there are some exceptions.
This type of claim is designed to compensate families for the loss of their loved one and their loved one’s contribution to the family unit. A wrongful death claim can be extremely emotionally challenging, but it can benefit the family of a victim a great deal.
Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Today, family members can assert a wrongful death claim against a wrongdoer if the victim would have had a personal injury claim if he or she had lived. This rule allows the family to sue for essentially the same types of damages that would have been available to the victim, plus additional benefits, including:
- Loss of future wages for the individual’s remaining life if he or she had not been killed
- Loss of care, comfort, guidance, etc. that the victim would have provided to family members
- Funeral expenses
- Burial expenses
In some cases, punitive damages may be available if the wrongdoer’s actions were especially egregious. The Court must specifically find that the wrongdoer engaged in reckless conduct or willfully or maliciously brought about the victim’s death.
Filing for a Wrongful Death Claim
In Massachusetts, the executor or administrator of the deceased can file a claim for wrongful death. Although this person is usually a family member or spouse, it does not have to be. The executor or administrator is responsible for distributing funds and paying off debts on behalf of the deceased.
If the individual died with a will, then he or she can name whoever they would like as their executor. If the victim dies without a will, then his or her spouse will usually be the administrator of the estate. Any funds recovered from the wrongful death lawsuit will be given back to the estate and distributed according to a will or according to state intestate laws if the victim does not have a valid will.
Other Important Facts Regarding Wrongful Death Claims
In Massachusetts, wrongful death claims have a three-year statute of limitations. That means that you must bring a wrongful death claim within three years of the victim’s death or you will be forever barred under the law from asserting such a claim. The date may be extended if the administrator or executor did not know about the death immediately, but these circumstances are relatively rare.
Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits. They operate separate and apart from criminal lawsuits. That means that the wrongdoer could face both criminal and civil charges for the same victim’s death. The required showing in a civil case is lower than in a criminal case, so you may still win a wrongful death claim in civil court even though a criminal claim did not result in a guilty verdict.
Although it is often difficult to think about a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one, you should consider all of your options after an accident or other tragedy. Speak with an experienced attorney for more information.