What Constitutes Wrongful Death?

Before asking what constitutes wrongful death, it’s important to define what the term means. Wrongful death refers to a claim against a person who can be held liable for a death. In other words, when a person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity, it’s considered a wrongful death. The purpose of a wrongful death claim is to enable the survivors to seek compensation for their loss, either to recover medical expenses prior to death, lost wages, physical pain prior to death, mental anguish, funeral expenses, or lost companionship.

The right for a person to make a claim of wrongful death is a relatively recent development in the United States. It’s only been within the last century or so that state and federal courts have allowed these claims. There are now laws regarding what constitutes a wrongful death in all 50 states.

Examples of Common Wrongful Death Claims

In Oregon, a wrongful death claim is basically a negligence personal injury claim that has resulted in a person’s death. The most common causes of wrongful death claims that our attorneys see are car, truck, bike, and pedestrian accidents, as well as medical malpractice, defective products, and bar liability cases. The circumstances of every wrongful death claim are different, so if you’re wondering about whether your case qualifies, it’s crucial that you contact a lawyer immediately.

Damages Related to Wrongful Death Claims

There are generally three types of damages that result from a wrongful death lawsuit: economic, non-economic, and punitive. Economic damages include all the financial contributions the victim would’ve made to the survivors if he or she hadn’t died, including medical and funeral expenses, lost earnings and benefits, and the value of goods and services that he or she would’ve been able to provide. Non-economic damages refer to mental anguish, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. Even though non-economic damages are less tangible than economic ones, they often have more value. Finally, there are punitive damages which are awarded as a punishment for the defendant for bad conduct. Many states do not make punitive damages available, especially against certain defendants such as government agencies.

Who is Allowed to Sue for Wrongful Death?

Only a representative working on behalf of the survivors, also known as the “real parties in interest,” who have suffered damage from a person’s death are able to make a wrongful death claim. Usually, this representative is the executor of the deceased person’s estate. Who is legally considered to be a real party of interest varies from state to state. In every state, immediate family members including adopted children are considered to be real parties in interest. In some states, life partners, financial dependents, or distant family members may also be considered real parties in interest. Other states allow any person who suffers financially from another’s death to bring a wrongful death action even if they aren’t related by blood or marriage.

Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

Generally, wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against any person, company, and/or government agency involved in a person’s untimely death. In a fatal car accident involving a faulty roadway and a drunk driver, for example, there are a number of potential defendants. From the driver at fault, to the designer of the faulty roadway, to the person who sold or served alcohol to the drunk driver or owned the bar, the defendants include everyone who negligently contributed to the accident victim’s death.

When Should a Person Make a Wrongful Death Claim?

We recommend contacting an attorney as soon as possible because it’s important to collect and preserve evidence relevant to the case. If an extensive investigation is necessary, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of time to construct an effective case. In Oregon, wrongful death claims have a three-year statute of limitations, which means that the claim must be settled or the lawsuit must be filed within three years from the incident. If you’re concerned about time constraints and deadlines, contact one of our experienced wrongful death attorneys for a free consultation on your potential case.


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