If you’ve suffered the death of a loved one, especially if they were involved in an accident that killed them, you might have heard the term “wrongful death” and even been told that you should file a lawsuit. But why? What does the term mean?
“Wrongful death”can be a confusing concept. As far as most people are concerned, there’s rarely a death that feels “right,” so classifying some as “wrongful” doesn’t really make sense. What exactly makes a death “wrongful”? How is this different from manslaughter, murder, or other killings for which people can be charged with crimes?
Merriam-Webster defines the term as “a death caused by someone’s mistake or someone’s improper act,” which is broad and unfortunately not very helpful when trying to differentiate it from criminal charges. Thankfully, Nolo goes a bit deeper in their explanation:
“A death caused by the wrongful act of another, either accidentally or intentionally. A claim for wrongful death is made by a family member of a deceased person to obtain compensation for having to live without that person. The compensation is intended to cover the earnings and the emotional comfort and support the deceased person would have provided.”
So wrongful death is different from criminal charges in a couple of ways. Firstly, the person or entity supposedly responsible for your loved one’s death isn’t going to face any kind of criminal punishment like jail time or probation. Second, it’s a way for you to get money to make up for lost income and pay for things like their medical and funeral expenses. These are things that no one ever wants to have to think about, but being able to hold someone else responsible for the death of a loved one is something that can be cathartic and a huge financial help at a time when money may be scarce.
Different Types of Wrongful Death Cases
How do you know if the death of your loved one was “wrongful”? While every case is different, there are a number of common types of wrongful death cases that people typically pursue.
Auto, bicycle, and pedestrian accidents. If someone was driving recklessly and this caused them to hit and kill your loved one, you may be able to sue them for monetary damages. This applies to all kinds of auto accidents – cars, trucks, motorcycles, big rigs, boats, trains, and so on. Cases involving commercial vehicles are different from regular car crashes, but many of the same rules apply.Pedestrians and cyclists are also more vulnerable to falling objects or even falling to their own deaths, such as in the case of city maintenance workers leaving a trench open and forgetting to put up warning signs.
Workplace deaths. There are a number of ways that employers might be held responsible for the death of an employee. Recently, there were news stories about a Bank of America intern who may have worked himself to death with long hours and little sleep – apparently a common practice for interns there. Other kinds of wrongful workplace deaths might include negligence, such as an accident on a construction site.
Defective product accidents. People are hurt or killed all the time because something they bought doesn’t work correctly or was made with shoddy materials. Think about all of the product recalls you hear about every single year. When someone actually dies as a result of a defective product, the company responsible can be sued for wrongful death to compensate you for the loss of your loved one.
Medical malpractice. We tend to think of doctors and other medical professionals as infallible experts who always know exactly what to do and how to help, but the truth is that they are human and make mistakes. Sometimes, these errors are due to incompetence, laziness, or even exhaustion on the part of the medical professional because they work such long, hard hours. Almost 300 people die every day from medical errors, so it’s important to draw attention to issues and stop them from happening again.
Mistakes with prescription medicine. An offshoot of medical malpractice, pharmacists and others sometimes make mistakes by giving patients the wrong medicine, the incorrect dosage, or improperly labeling bottles. All of these things can lead to serious problems and deserve compensation.
If you’re considering pursuing a wrongful death case, it’s important that you speak with a legal expert and explore every option available to you.