What’s involved in a wrongful death claim?

A “wrongful death” is any death caused by a wrongful act, as a wrongful death lawyer Miami FL trusts might explain. It can be criminal such as homicide or manslaughter, and it can also be a civil action involving damages and not incarceration. Every death caused by a criminal act is a “wrongful” death and carries with it the right to bring a civil action for money damages. However, deaths caused by ordinary or even gross negligence do not normally bring criminal charges. Deaths caused by “culpable” or “willful and wanton” negligence giving rise to punitive damages however, can result in criminal charges for manslaughter. When one discusses a “wrongful death claim” it usually is in reference to a civil action for money damages arising from an act of negligence not resulting in criminal charges.

Our legal system was imported from England as the “common law”. It is an organic philosophical  concept of community customs and traditions interpreted and added to by the judiciary in an evolving process as distinct from “civil law” which is based upon statutes and codes passed or enforced by legislative bodies or monarchs. At common law, there was no right to sue someone for causing the wrongful death of another through negligence. When someone died through the negligence of another there was no right to sue for damages for that death- the action ended with that death. As industrial society emerged in the early 18th century Parliament passed the Fatal Accidents Act of 1846 commonly known as “Lord Campbell’s Act” which gave the right to sue for damages for wrongful death.

The concept of the wrongful death act spread across the Atlantic until each individual state within the United States had passed their own “wrongful death act”. Therefore, when we question the possible civil actions available for a wrongful death, the particular statutory law of each state must be examined.

In some states, the action is brought by a Personal Representative appointed by the Court. This Personal Representative is the sole plaintiff and brings the action on behalf of specific individuals designated by the statute as “survivors” as well as on behalf of the Estate. The damages that each type of survivor and the Estate is designated in the statute. The damages that can be claimed are set forth in an arbitrary scheme based upon legislative design and the statute must be carefully read to determine the particular type of damages available to the particular class of survivor and the Estate.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Needle & Ellenberg, P.A. for their insights into wrongful death claims.