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Three Common Questions about Wrongful Death Lawsuits

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Losing a loved one is one of the most painful experiences a person can suffer. In many cases, the death of a loved one was preventable and the loss is considered wrongful death. This means the surviving family members are entitled to compensation. Though nothing can replace your loved one, if the loss is legally classified as wrongful death, you have a right to take action.

Those faced with a potential wrongful death lawsuit likely have many questions. Understanding basic legal information about wrongful death can help you determine if you should pursue a lawsuit.

What is considered wrongful death?

The premise behind a wrongful death suit is that a person’s death also causes injury to loved ones left behind. If they relied on the deceased for emotional or financial support, they deserve compensation to make up for their loss. The compensation is not intended to replace the person, but to support the survivor and offer some semblance of the life he or she could have had if his or her loved one had survived.

Wrongful death can be caused by a reckless or negligent act, or an intentional act. State laws determine who is eligible to file a wrongful death suit. In general, it is any immediate relative who relied on the deceased for support, but some states limit suits to only children or spouses, or within the same family.

How is the court system able to decide what my loved one’s life was “worth”?

Determining exact figures in a wrongful death suit can be complicated. It is difficult to put an amount on the value of someone’s life and most people would agree their loved one’s life had no specific fiduciary value. However, the court takes a practical approach and considers the cost of funeral and medical expenses, an estimate of the deceased’s earning potential over the course of his or her lifetime, and the pain and suffering experienced by those left behind. It is important to know that in Colorado, like many other states, there are limits on the amount of money that you may be able to recover for losses, such as emotional distress.

Is there a difference between wrongful death, medical malpractice, and murder?

There is some overlap between wrongful death and other types of lawsuits. If a person dies as the result of medical malpractice, it might be a case of wrongful death, but not always. Sometimes medical malpractice is based on negligence and sometimes it is not.

In instances of murder, the person responsible for the death is often put on trial in a criminal case. Criminal cases are brought on behalf of citizens and a guilty verdict requires charges be proved beyond a reasonable doubt and if found guilty, the defendant is put in jail.

Wrongful death charges, on the other hand, are civil lawsuits and are brought on behalf of individuals. There is no guilty or innocent verdict and defendants do not face jail time. In wrongful death cases, as in most civil cases, the standard of proof is by a preponderance of evidence. So instead of beyond a doubt, you must prove a person is responsible more likely than not. It is possible for a defendant to be found not guilty of murder, but still responsible for a person’s death and therefore, responsible for wrongful death compensation.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is emotional and complicated. Though you are likely focused on healing and putting your life back together, you deserve compensation for your loss. If you have lost a loved one and would like to discuss your case with experienced professionals, contact Miller and Steiert, P.C. for more information.

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