What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
The death of a person can be caused by many things, directly or indirectly. When a death is caused indirectly, let’s say by a road accident, it can be attributed to the negligence of another driver or the person/company in charge or road maintenance. The victim would not have died if not for the circumstances directly/indirectly caused by the persons involved. The relatives of the victim can then file a wrongful death claim on said persons or entities.
In the United States, a wrongful death claim can be filed by relatives when a person or entity is the cause of a person’s death either through intentional action or negligence. Relatives, the person’s estate or those close to the deceased can file claim for the potential earnings of the deceased lifetime or a survival amount on behalf of the deceased person’s beneficiaries which include funeral expenses, as well as punitive and emotional damages.
In wrongful death claims, burden of proof to provide contrary evidence is given to the defendant while the plaintiff is initially given the benefit of doubt but must also provide the same evidence that the deceased would have provided. It must be proven that the defendant breached or neglected his/her duties and such negligence was directly or approximately the cause of the death of the victim. It must also be proven that the victim’s death is the cause of the damages the plaintiff is suing for. Wrongful death claim statutes however differ from state to state but the concept remains the same.
Wrongful death claims may be filed usually by the victim’s estate or immediate family. In the United States, the plaintiff allowed may vary from state to state. Universally, the victim’s spouse is allowed to file a claim as well as parents of minors, but states differ when it comes to other familial relationships.
What can be claimed include survival claims, medical costs prior to death, funeral and burial costs, loss of inheritance, and loss of love, care and nurturing the victim would have provided. A value equivalent to the services that would have been provided by the deceased or the deceased expected income could be claimed.
One famous case of a wrongful death claim is the case between Michael Jackson’s family versus the then King of Pop’s concert promoter AEG. AEG is being blamed by the Jackson family for indirectly causing the death of the King of Pop who overdosed on the sleeping pill Propofol. It was administered by convicted physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, who was hired by AEG. Michael Jackson was having difficulties sleeping and Dr. Murray was tasked to take care for Jackson and make sure he would be able to fulfill his concert obligations. Murray was eventually convicted, but the court couldn’t find proof that AEG pressured the doctor to make sure Jackson completed his concerts. Thus AEG is cleared of any liability.
Another popular case is the OJ Simpson murder trial where the family of Simpson’s wife, Nicole Brown, filed a wrongful death claim against the actor, a suit which is separate from OJ’s criminal case. In murder cases, the plaintiffs can sue for damages apart from murder or homicide charges against the accused.