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What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful Death… Explained

A wrongful death is any death caused by the wrongful or negligent conduct of another person or entity, such as a corporation or a municipality.

A wrongful death claim is based on tort law and is subject to the statutes of the state where the death occurred. Each state has its own laws and rules on how wrongful death actions are brought including who is eligible to bring the claim, if there are caps on damages, and what types of compensation may be awarded and to whom.

Most wrongful death actions are the result of the negligent conduct of another person, such as in an auto accident. Wrongful deaths can also be caused by defective products, medical malpractice, or a tainted drug. In these cases, different timelines for filing a claim and different standards regarding evidence and how to prove liability will apply.

Because of the complex issues in these types of claims, the skills of a wrongful death lawyer is essential to recover compensation.

Types of Wrongful Death Claims

Auto Accident – Most death claims are the result of automobile accidents. There are approximately 50,000 fatal car accidents in the US each year, mainly from a driver’s negligent conduct. A driver has a duty to exercise reasonable care in operating a motor vehicle. The driver’s failure to exercise ordinary care that is expected of a reasonable person under similar circumstances may constitute a breach of that duty. If the breach led to a fatality, then a claim may be made.

Product Liability – Designers and manufacturers of products are held to certain standards of care. A defective product can be the result of an error in manufacture or in the design. If the defect causes a death, the plaintiffs may have a claim under the doctrine of strict liability, meaning that negligence is assumed and the plaintiff only needs to prove damages. Otherwise, expert testimony is needed to demonstrate that a safer product could have been designed if the technology was available at the time. Common examples of defective products include child booster seats, exploding gas tanks, medical devices, and certain drugs. A failure to warn of foreseeable risks is also an actionable claim.

Medical Malpractice – Health care providers are held to the standard of a reasonably competent medical professional in the same type of medical practice, such as neurology or nursing. Common medical errors include the wrong diagnosis, surgical errors, a failure to account for a patient’s interactions with certain drugs, or administering the wrong dosage or drug. Surgical sponges or instruments left inside a body cavity and operating on the wrong site are other medical errors that can lead to tragic results.


Damages in wrongful death cases are governed by the statutes of each state. Compensatory damages can be awarded, which include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost earnings over the working life of the decedent as determined by a forensic economist. For a nonworking spouse, the expert can determine the value of his or her child care and housekeeping duties.
  • Loss of consortium or loss of love, affection or companionship.

Wrongful death claims may have different rules regarding filing, certifying, or how it is brought, particularly if a governmental entity is involved. Only a wrongful death attorney can properly advise you and ensure that all rules and laws are followed or you risk dismissal of your claim.

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