A wrongful death claim is a case fraught with emotion. Persons involved are usually filled with questions. Many may be intimate or will elicit emotions a person would prefer to manage in private. With that in mind, providing answers to the most common questions regarding such cases allows an individual to probe this legal matter tentatively, in private, before making a decision to move forward.
1. What is Wrongful Death? A wrongful death can be thought of as a death that shouldn’t have happened, or wouldn’t have happened naturally. In order to bring a wrongful death claim, the death must have been caused by negligence, purseful act, or recklessness. Some common reasons a person might file a wrongful death lawsuit include their loved one was killed in a car accident, someone dies because of neglect in a nursing home, or if someone is murdered.
2. Who can bring a wrongful death case? Surviving family members who have lost the companionship and financial support of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim. In Minnesota this includes:
- Surviving spouse at the time of death.
- Surviving children;
- Decedent’s parents if there were no surviving children;
- Siblings if there were no surviving children or parents; &
- Parents of a young, deceased child.
3. How are wrongful death damages determined?
In a wrongful death lawsuit, family members can seek compensation for their loved one’s medical bills, their own pain and suffering, lost companionship, lost income, funeral costs, etc. There are many variables that determine how much these damages will be. The most common things considered are:
- A decedent’s past financial contributions.
- The life expectancy of a decedent at the time of death.
- The health condition of the decedent at the time of death.
- The decedent’s age, habits, and occupation.
- The past and potential future earnings of the decedent.
- The type of accident as well as severity. Cases can vary depending on the number of vehicles involved (single vehicle vs. multiple) as well as the types of vehicles involved (motorcycles, trucks, SUV’s, etc.)
4. How are wrongful death damages divided among heirs? The first solution is for heirs to come to a mutual agreement among themselves. If this is not possible, the court will determine the division of damages.
5. What is Minnesota’s statute of limitations on wrongful death claims? If a death was the result of an intentional act, in other words, murder, there is no statute of limitations. Wrongful death cases involving negligence have a three-year statute of limitations. Where professional negligence due to medical malpractice is the cause, there are specific medical malpractice laws that apply.
6. Are punitive damages recoverable in wrongful death? Recovering punitive damages varies from state to state. In Minnesota, recovery of punitive damages is dependent upon the conduct of the defendant in the event that brought about the death of a loved one. However, there is a distinct difference between punitive damages and damages for emotional distress. Emotional distress damages may be limited to compensation for the value of the lost loved one’s role in comfort, assistance, protection, etc. Primarily, damages in wrongful death cases are related to pecuniary loss. These are the financial damages associated with past and future income, loss of affection, and companionship.
7. What if there is dissent among survivors about filing a case? Minnesota wrongful death law requires that all claimants be joined together in a single case. Should a survivor choose to not participate, there are mechanisms in place that create assurance that such a survivor understands they are relinquishing their right to claim any portion of damages that may be awarded.
8. Is a representing attorney required to pursue a wrongful death case? Due to the complexities of such cases, although not legally required, securing professional legal representation is the wisest course of action. Many cases require professional investigations into a business, individual, or insurance provider. Such cases are inherently emotional. The skill, expertise, and professional objectiveness of an attorney are invaluable.
9. Can heirs use separate attorneys? Although Minnesota law requires heirs to be united in a single case, they can be represented by separate attorneys. In some situations, such as survivors who have problematic relationships, this would be advisable.
10. How soon should an attorney be consulted after a loved one has died? As soon as possible, survivors should contact a legal professional for advice if the loss of a loved one was a preventable event, the result of an act of malice, negligence, or accidental. The memory of witnesses will erode over time. The scene of the death will change over time. It is important to speak to witnesses and photograph the scene as soon as possible.
At a time when you are most vulnerable, it is important to have a legal representative who will aggressively work for your interests. Please contact us to arrange a consultation. You will be entrusting your case to experienced St. Paul trial lawyers who are committed to the interest of justice on your behalf.