There is perhaps no greater pain felt than losing a loved one, especially if the death was caused by someone else’s actions. Fortunately, every state gives families the ability to take legal action and file a wrongful death lawsuit against those that caused their loved one’s death.
Although the laws may vary from state to state, a wrongful death lawsuit is essentially a personal injury claim, allowing the deceased’s family the ability to recover damages from the liable party. The term “wrongful act” generally refers to intentional acts of harm or their “negligence”, which refers to the liable party breaching their legal duty of care that then led to fatal injuries. Some forms of negligent acts include:
- Drunk driving or reckless driving
- Medical malpractice
- A manufacturer releasing a defective product
- Leaving dangerous conditions on a property
In many states, only a direct family member of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit, which includes a parent, spouse, or child. Additional family members can be added after the lawsuit had been filed. However, they would have to provide testimony and prove that they had a financial relationship that depended on the deceased individual.
In Ohio, the personal representative of the deceased’s estate must file the wrongful death claim to court. This person is called the “executor” and is normally named in the deceased person’s will before they had passed. If there is no will, then the court will appoint someone to serve the claim.
According to Ohio law, you are able to file a wrongful death claim if you are the departed’s:
- Parent: To be able to recover compensation, you must be the deceased’s biological or lawful parent at their time of their death. If you were an adoptive parent, then the adoption must be finalized before their death. Furthermore, if it is found that you had abandoned the deceased while they were a minor child, then you are forbidden from recovering any compensation.
- Spouse: If you were legally married to the decedent at the time of death, even if separated or in the process of divorce, then you can file a wrongful death claim. Additionally, you are still able to remarry after your spouse’s death and recover damages.
- Child: To file a wrongful death claim, you must be the deceased’s biological child or must be fully adopted. Generally, if you are a stepchild or a foster child, you do not have a claim.
Unfortunately, if you were the deceased’s grandparent, sibling, or even a close romantic partner, you are unable to present a wrongful death claim. However, if you can meet the extra requirement, which is presenting evidence to the court that you had suffered a loss as a result of your loved one’s death, then you can join the lawsuit.
Criminal Case Vs Wrongful Death Claim
It is important to understand the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and criminal prosecution for homicide in the event of someone’s death. Just like other personal injury lawsuits, the court orders the defendant to financially compensate the plaintiff, in this case, the deceased party’s loved ones. In a criminal homicide case, the conviction is generally prison time, probation, or other penalties, as well as fines to be paid to the state.
Another major difference between a wrongful death claim and a criminal homicide case is that in criminal court, the defendant’s guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is a difficult task for the prosecution. However, in a civil case, the defendant’s liability must only be “by a preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, the defendant is likely liable and must compensate the plaintiff for their damages. Furthermore, a defendant can be facing criminal charges and still be sued in civil court for the same death. Ohio law specifies that a death caused by murder or manslaughter can also have a wrongful death lawsuit.
What Damages are Available in a Wrongful Death Claim?
Financial recovery in a wrongful death claim depends upon several factors. The severity of the injuries suffered and the circumstances surrounding the deceased’s passing will have a big impact on what damages are available to recover:
- Medical expenses
- Family member’s financial support
- Family member’s funeral and burial expenses
- Family member’s services
- Family member’s companionship and care
- Loss of prospective inheritance
- Mental anguish
There are several factors that contribute to the amount awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit, such as:
- The age of the victim at the time of death.
- Whether the victim was the sole caregiver of their household.
- The deceased’s previous earnings and what future earnings they could have made.
- The economic damages the family suffered because of their loved one’s death.
- The jury’s perception of the deceased’s life, whether their relationship with friends and family and society was in good standing.
- How painful the grieving process has been for the family.
- The jury’s perception of the defendant or the entity responsible for the loved one’s death.
After the deceased’s estate receives compensation following the wrongful death ruling, the court will decide how the proceeds are distributed. This is generally based on the beneficiaries relationship to the deceased, such as the spouse getting a larger portion of the proceeds than their children. If you and other surviving family members are of equal relationship, such as you and your siblings, than it will likely be divided equally. The loved ones of the deceased do have the option to distribute the proceeds as they see fit but must be approved by the court first.
What is the Time Limit for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Ohio?
Ohio’s statute of limitations is two years from the date of death. If the claim is filed outside of the statute of limitations, it most certainly will be dismissed by the court. Keep in mind that the deadline is from the date of death and not the date of the accident that caused the death. Furthermore, there are a few exceptions to the “statute of limitations” to change the deadline but consider discussing the matter with a knowledgeable attorney first before filing.
Limits of a Wrongful Death Claim
As there are limits on who can file a wrongful death claim, there are also limits on the compensation you could receive. There is no limit on a dollar amount that plaintiffs can receive in Ohio, but there is a limit as to what type of compensation can be awarded. For instance, one statute addresses how much the deceased could have made should they have lived, and that number is calculated and then awarded as compensation. This could include salary, lost time at work, and bonuses.
If the deceased had a life insurance policy and was paid out to the loved ones of the deceased, then that must be disclosed to the court. The life insurance amount that was awarded would be subtracted from the final award of compensation. Additionally, there is a law that limits compensation to $250,000 if the death happened on state university amongst multiple deaths.
Different Types of Wrongful Death Cases
Any negligent or intentional action that causes an injury can also be considered in a wrongful death case, should the injury result in death. These can include:
- Auto accidents: Car accidents are a common occurrence, as well as the injuries and death they cause. This can also include pedestrian and bicycle accidents, who are more susceptible to serious and often fatal injuries.
- Commercial truck accidents: A truck driver or the trucking company may be held liable for someone’s death, specifically if they failed to obey state trucking laws, improperly loaded the truck resulting in an accident, failed to maintain the appropriate weight, or was drowsy behind the wheel.
- Premises accidents: Premises injuries can occur in any number of ways, either through slips, and falls, poorly or unmarked hazards, or icy conditions.
- Product liability accidents: It is possible to hold product manufacturers liable for injury or death should they produce a defective or dangerous product.
- Workplace accidents: Some workplaces are more dangerous than others. Because of workers’ compensation insurance, you may not be able sue an employer for injuries, but you may if the cause of the workplace accident is a third party.
Dayton Car Accident Lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC Help Loved Ones of an Accident Victim with Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Dealing with the death of a loved one can seem like an impossible task. However, there are those that can help. Contact our experienced Dayton wrongful death lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC right away. Our knowledgeable and experienced team can help you with filing a wrongful death claim. Call us today at 937-222-7477 or fill out our online form for a free consultation. With our offices located in Dayton, Ohio, we proudly serve all clients of Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, and Miamisburg.