A wrongful death is a death caused by another person without legal justification. Most wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for deaths caused by negligence. Examples of negligent acts that have lethal results include careless driving, making avoidable mistakes while providing medical treatment, or manufacturing a deadly drug or dangerous product.
Most wrongful death posts on the web are written by lawyers talking about their successful representation of clients in wrongful death cases. There is nothing wrong with those posts, but articles on the web that provide broader information about wrongful death may be more helpful to readers who want to learn more about the subject. Here are some of the best posts on the web addressing different aspects of wrongful death law.
A brief overview of wrongful death law on the Nolo website provides a definition of wrongful death claims, discusses the different people who may be able to sue for wrongful death, outlines the damages that are available in wrongful death actions, and explains why the government may be immune from wrongful death lawsuits. Findlaw has a similar article while Lawyer.com has an interesting wrongful death FAQ page. Remember, however, that wrongful death is the product of state law, usually in the form of statutes enacted by state legislators. While the laws tend to cover the same ground, state laws differ as to the categories of people who can sue for wrongful death and the kinds of damages they are entitled to receive.
Wrongful death claims are different from survival actions, which are typically brought by the deceased’s estate. As is true of wrongful death actions, each state has its own approach to survival actions. A useful explanation of the difference between the two kinds of lawsuits is provided by the AllLaw website.
The measurement of wrongful death compensation varies from state to state. To understand the law in California, it is helpful to read the instructions that judges give to juries in wrongful death cases. The Justia website has the California jury instruction on damages in wrongful death cases. Below that jury instruction is the statute that specifies the parties who are entitled to bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California.
Verdicts and Settlements
Think Progress has an informative post about the largest wrongful death settlement in California’s history. Corizon Correctional Healthcare agreed to pay $8.3 million to the children of Martin Harrison, a California inmate who had been locked in an isolation cell in an Alameda County jail. The lawsuit against Corizon alleged that the jail nurses knew that Harrison was an alcoholic but negligently failed to provide any treatment to manage his withdrawal from alcohol. Had they done so, they could have prevented the behavior that led to Harrison’s death.
Some famous wrongful death settlements are featured in a post on the LawyerShop website. They include lawsuits against Nancy Grace, Ford Motors, and of course, O.J. Simpson.
Jury verdicts for wrongful death vary from zero to more than a million dollars. You can get a sense of the different kinds of wrongful death claims and the range of verdicts that are awarded for those claims by reading the case summaries posted in the wrongful death section of Zarin’s Jury Verdict Review & Analysis. Zarin’s sells full information about the cases to lawyers who are researching the value of wrongful death claims, but you can read a free preview of each case that will give you a sense of what the case was about.
Deaths that are caused by employment are usually, but not always, covered by worker’s compensation rather than traditional wrongful death laws. Some jobs are more dangerous than others. Construction and agriculture are commonly listed as the most dangerous occupations, but you might be surprised to learn that two of the Ten Deadliest Jobs (courtesy of the Forbes website) belong to lumberjacks and fishermen.
Animal lovers will be discouraged to learn that they cannot sue for the wrongful death of a pet. It is possible to sue someone who is responsible for the death of your pet, but you need to make a property damage claim for the death of your dog just as you would for damage to your car. Your compensation is limited to the market value of the pet, which will rarely amount to more than a few hundred dollars, if that.
An interesting post on the website of Michigan State University’s Animal Legal & Historical Center discusses an emerging trend to permit recovery of compensation for “loss of companionship” when the pet is a companion animal. Some courts recognize that a dog that assists someone with a disability has a “unique value” that exceeds the price for which the dog could be sold. Just don’t expect to recover the same compensation for the wrongful death of a companion dog that you would receive for the wrongful death of a human family member.
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