What is Involved in a Wrongful Death Claim?

It is often said that death is just a natural part of life, and we all know this to be true. The hope of many is to die naturally and peacefully, in the presence of loved ones. However, we live in a complicated world, full of danger and risk. Death can come unexpectedly, and sometimes suddenly. In some cases, the deceased’s own actions cause or contribute to the death. Other times, death results from the careless or intentional acts of another person, who should be held responsible for his or her behavior. Facing the unexpected death of a loved one leads many to wonder if a wrongful death action should be pursued. In this article, we’ll help answer that question and discuss what is involved.

What is Wrongful Death and What are Some Examples?  

Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020 provides that an action for wrongful death may be pursued against a wrongdoer any time the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another. Wrongful acts can be either negligent or intentional. A few examples of negligent acts include:

  • driving a car or semi-truck too fast for the circumstances or in a dangerous manner;
  • making a mistake in a medical procedure or surgery; or
  • providing the incorrect medicine to a patient in a hospital, nursing home, or other facility.

Examples of intentional acts include:

  • physically abusing a nursing home patient; or
  • killing a person with the intentional use of force, such as with a gun or a knife.

It’s important to note that an omission, or failure to act, can also be negligent or intentional, and can also support a cause of action for wrongful death. A few examples include:

  • failure by a medical care provider to properly diagnose an illness or condition;
  • a failure to provide a nursing home patient with proper nutrition;
  • a failure to warn a worker about asbestos exposure; or
  • a failure to properly maintain the mechanical integrity of a tractor-trailer truck.

All of these examples would give rise to a wrongful death action. The key rationale is that the law seeks to hold any wrongdoer responsible for his or her negligent or intentional acts or omissions which result in the death of another.

Suing the Responsible Party or Parties

While it sounds simple to state that one should sue the responsible party, this step can actually be complicated. Sometimes legal and strategic decisions are involved. For example, in a trucking accident, one might sue the driver, the trucking company who employed the driver, a third company that leased equipment to the trucking company, or all of them. In a medical malpractice case, one might sue one doctor, multiple doctors, one or more nurses, the hospital, the provider of medicine or supplies, or others who contributed to the death. Because these decisions can be difficult, it’s advisable to consult with an attorney to ensure the proper parties are sued.

Proving Your Case

The plaintiff has the burden of proof in a wrongful death case. Gathering the appropriate evidence to meet this burden is crucial, both for the purposes of settlement, and for trial, if it becomes necessary. Wrongful death cases often involve a tremendous amount of investigation, discovery, and the assistance of expert witnesses. Because wrongful death causes of action have a statute of limitation, it’s imperative to start this process as early as possible to permit adequate time for investigation. It pays to contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Contact an Attorney

Most litigants hope to reach a fair settlement of their case without going to trial. However, in most cases the defendant will be represented by one or more seasoned attorneys provided by his or her insurance company. It is the goal of these attorneys to pay a victim the smallest settlement possible. Therefore, it’s important to have your own skilled attorney to level the playing field. The attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield have negotiated the settlement of thousands of cases with insurance companies. Plus, if trial becomes necessary, our experienced attorneys will be ready to help you hold the wrongful party responsible for his actions. Please call us at your convenience with questions, or for a free consultation.

 

Helpful Links:

Oregon Evidentiary Rules: https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/chapter/40


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