What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit? March 27, 2023.
If you have experienced the death of a loved one due to the actions of another person, you may wonder if you have a wrongful death action. This kind of lawsuit is a civil process where the award or end result is monetary only. The goal is to hold someone responsible for the death and make them pay for the loss you experienced.
The law specifies every aspect, from who can file to what damages the court can award. It also is clear what makes a situation eligible for this type of case. But the place to begin with assessing what happened to your loved one is to learn the answer to the question: What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
An Overview of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
Ohio Revised Code Section 2125 covers wrongful death actions. It explains that a death occurring due to the negligence or wrongful act of another falls under this category. In most situations, should the deceased person have lived, they would have been eligible to file a personal injury claim.
Cases filed in these matters include deaths due to accidents and situations involving a crime, such as murder. Bringing a lawsuit for wrongful death is possible even if the responsible party died as well in the incident.
Whom the Right To Sue Lies With
Ohio law also is incredibly specific about who has the right to bring wrongful death actions in court. It is a right reserved only for close relatives. The first right would go to the surviving spouse and children. If the person had no spouse or children, then the parents are next of kin and could file the case.
The law also notes that the right to make a claim is only for those who have suffered damages due to the loss of life. It states explicitly that a parent who abandoned a child cannot make a claim for their death. Abandoned under the law means the parent stopped communications and was not a part of the child's life. They did not provide for the child in any way, regardless of court orders, for at least one year prior to the death.
Those Who Can Be Sued
Almost anyone could be the target of a wrongful death lawsuit. Parties in these cases might include individuals, companies, and government entities.
However, the law does eliminate the liability for property owners in specific situations. A property owner who had no control over the person responsible is not liable for deaths caused by violent and unprovoked actions.
Examples of Events That Lead to Wrongful Deaths
Wrongful death is often the result of an accident, but most accidents are not truly without fault. The responsible party may not have intended to kill someone. But they were doing something at the time, such as breaking a law or acting irresponsibly, that they knew could cause harm.
Common incidents that could lead to a legal claim include:
- Car accidents
- Product defects
- Amusement park accidents
- Work injuries
- Airplane crashes
- Medical malpractice
Wrongful death situations also may include intentional acts, such as murder or mass shootings.
The Standard of Proof in Wrongful Death Cases
To win a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove your claim by meeting the standard of proof. The burden you have to prove your case is much lighter since this is a civil action than it would be in a criminal case.
The burden of proof only requires a preponderance of the evidence. In simple terms, you just need to show the party was most likely responsible for the death. You can usually accomplish this by providing evidence about the other party's actions and the incident that led to the death of your loved one.
What Fair Compensation for a Wrongful Death Claim Might Be
There is no average settlement for wrongful death lawsuits because of how varied these cases can be. At the same time, there is no typical judgment either. Courts and juries look at claims on a case-by-case basis. They will consider the losses of the families involved. This can vary greatly depending on the age of the person who died and the relationships with their next of kin who filed the lawsuit.
Ohio law does give instructions on what damages are available in these cases. The guideline is to consider the losses, expenses, and impact of the death on the family. The law specifies the award must include a separate and exact amount to cover burial expenses.
The court or jury should consider other factors when awarding compensatory damages, including:
- Mental anguish and pain
- Loss of services
- Loss of prospective inheritance
- Loss of support
- Loss of companionship or other loss associated with losing the individual
Punitive damages are an option, but they are not something a court would regularly award in a wrongful death case. Punitive damages are a type of punishment for the responsible party. They are not a way to compensate for a family's losses. Rarely will a court entertain the idea of including this in a judgment unless there are extenuating circumstances.
A wrongful death settlement will typically never include punitive awards.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
The wrongful death lawsuit statute of limitations is the time limit in which you must file your claim. If you fail to file by the deadline, you lose all rights to take legal action in the matter. Ohio law sets the statute of limitations at two years after the death.
There is an exception to this rule: When the cause of death is not immediately known, the clock begins when a medical authority links it to the negligent or wrongful action.
Seek Justice With the Help of a Wrongful Death Attorney
Now that you have the answer to what is a wrongful death lawsuit, you may wonder what the next steps are. Trying to manage a case on your own is a difficult task. You are best off seeking the services of an experienced wrongful death attorney.
Chris Mellino has represented clients for over 35 years in cases just like yours. He has a strong record of getting fair compensation and seeking closure for families who have lost loved ones.
The team at Mellino Law is standing by to help you with your case. Contact us today to start learning how you can move forward with your claim.