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Can I Sue If a Family Member Died In A Car Accident?

Losing a beloved family member is never easy. It is even more difficult when a family member’s death is due to a sudden or unexpected occurrence, such as a car accident. Besides the emotional wounds that run deep within each family member left behind, the financial burden that remains could be devastating.

Whether a death happens as a result of a car accident, work accident, or any other occurrence, if there is negligence involved, a wrongful death claim could be filed. This type of claim is for the purpose of bringing compensation to those who experience financial loss and emotional suffering that derive from the wrongful death of a family member.  

Just as with any other legal matter, however, there are laws and regulations that apply. It is essential, therefore, that family members of a recently deceased understand who can file, what they can file for, and what they have to prove accordingly.

What Is Negligence in a Wrongful Death Claim?

“Negligence” in a wrongful death claim is the careless action or behavior of an individual that causes the death of another person. It is a failure to use a level of care that would normally be conducted by any person exercising ordinary prudence or reasonable judgement.

A person who is negligent is at fault. In a wrongful death lawsuit, a person who is proven at fault is liable for damages. It is, then, up to the plaintiff to prove that the damages claimed in the suit are warranted: in other words, the amount of money asked for in the claim to compensate for emotional and financial damages has to make sense.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim can be filed by any person whose immediate family member was killed due to the negligent actions of another person. This means that a claim for wrongful death could be filed by a spouse, parent, or child of a victim. Under Ohio law, the immediate family members have a right to file a claim due to the presumption that the death of their loved one caused damages.

It is important to understand that just because the law states that only immediate family members can file, it does not mean that other family members cannot join a lawsuit and receive compensation. It is understood that the suffering caused by the death of a loved one often transcends the immediate family.

Family members outside the immediate family (extended family) include siblings, grandchildren, and cousins. Although they cannot do the actual filing of a claim, extended family members may be able to receive compensation as an addition to the claim. They must first, however, prove to the court that the death of a loved one caused them to suffer a loss. Once this is established, they can join the suit.  

There are other exceptions to who can file a claim. If a person is mentally or physically incompetent, for instance, and is unable to file a claim as a result, a representative may file a claim on that person’s behalf. An example of a representative would be a guardian or fiduciary. The court may appoint a guardian or representative if no one has been established in such a role.  

A parent or guardian can file on behalf of a child, even if the parent or guardian is not a blood relative. In essence, the court will make sure that any immediate family member of a victim can file a wrongful death claim. The court has the latitude to take whatever steps necessary to protect a minor or any person deemed incompetent or unable.

It is also important to note that in most cases only one family member can act as a representative and be named plaintiff. This plaintiff will in turn represent the family members involved in the claim and work as a beneficiary.

What Damages Can You Seek in a Wrongful Death Claim?

The law is quite liberal when it comes to what damages a person can claim in a wrongful death suit. It is recognized, for instance, that emotional pain and suffering may warrant receiving financial compensation, although this may be much more subjective than financial obligations. Pain and suffering, therefore, would be more difficult to prove, especially when it comes to an arriving at an exact amount.

Also related to emotional pain and suffering according to law is the loss of companionship; the companionship of a spouse is a good example. The loss of a father or mother is critical to a child and therefore is also recognized by the court.

Intimacy, care, protection, and guidance are all a part of the intangibles of a claim, as well as advice and instruction that will be sorely missed.

On the financial side of a wrongful death claim, and perhaps the most important aspect of a claim, the loss of support from the deceased is critical. This also may include what is considered the reasonably expected earning potential of the deceased. Furthermore, a plaintiff may consider filing an amount to compensate for the loss of future inheritance that a loved one might have received from a family member if death did not occur.

Although the court allows a plethora of damages to be included in the claim, bear in mind that everything mentioned as damages must be proven. It is also important to note that punitive damages are not part of a wrongful death claim.

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Claim?

According to Ohio law, the statute of limitations for a plaintiff to file is two years from the time of death. The exception is two years from the time the plaintiff realized that the deceased had suffered a wrongful death. With this exception, although it extends the time to file, the plaintiff must prove in a court of law that the gap between the death and the realization is valid.  

What Factors May Affect a Wrongful Death Claim?

The amount of a claim awarded to a relative in a wrongful death claim is not always straightforward; there are always certain factors that are taken into consideration. Although there is no specific dollar amount pertaining to how much a loved one can receive in a wrongful death suit, there are parameters set to assure that the amount of compensation awarded is arrived at in a reasonable manner.

The most obvious is the age of a victim. It makes sense that there would be a significant difference in the amount of expected future income between a young person and someone who is close to retirement. Thus, it is not reasonable for a plaintiff to receive nine years of potential earnings if the deceased was three years from retirement.

Insurance and retirement benefits are enormous factors in a wrongful death suit. The amount of life insurance the deceased carried will offset the amount of reward a plaintiff is eligible to receive. Often, the full insurance amount will be subtracted from the amount awarded. Retirement benefits, such as a pension or 401K, are taken into consideration because they count toward income for the beneficiary. The amount can be considered a replacement for lost wages.

It is also important as to whether or not the deceased was the sole provider of the household. The amount of income that the surviving spouse earns is also essential. If it is determined, for instance, that the surviving spouse earns enough to support the family, it may have an effect on how much of the deceased’s salary will be considered in the reward.

The intangibles of a wrongful death case are the most difficult to predict in regard to the outcome of a suit. Thus, the perception of the jury is essential. How a jury views the relationship between the deceased and the family members mentioned in the suit, for instance, matters. A negative view may reduce the amount awarded for emotional pain and suffering.

The grieving process is directly related to the relationship between the deceased and those mentioned in the suit. The more positive the relationship, as well as the amount of influence the deceased had on family members, the more reward a jury may grant. The jury’s view of the person[s] responsible for the death can also come into play.

Dayton Wrongful Death Lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC Represent Clients in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit.

If your loved one died a wrongful death, you need a competent lawyer to represent you and your loved ones. Our experienced Dayton wrongful death lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC will fight aggressively to bring you the compensation you deserve. Call us at (937) 222-7477 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Vandalia and Dayton, Ohio, we serve clients throughout Ohio.