Wrongful Death Cases in Oregon: What You Need to Know

Life is a precious gift, but it doesn’t last forever. Even though we understand our mortality, it can be difficult to accept the deaths of friends and family as they age or become ill. But, while it might be challenging to accept death by natural causes, at least there is some comfort in knowing that it is a normal part of the cycle of life.   

Sadly, however, many deaths result, not from natural causes, but because of the negligent or intentional acts or omissions of another person. Such unnecessary loss of life is devastating to the deceased’s loved ones. When these unfathomable losses occur, the responsible party can be held responsible under Oregon law. Of course, no remedy can make one “whole” for the untimely and unnecessary death of a loved one, but the law does the best that it can to provide a remedy and to hold the wrongdoer responsible. In this article, we will discuss the basics of wrongful death actions in Oregon.

What Is “Wrongful Death?” Is It a Civil or a Criminal Action?

Under Oregon law, “wrongful death” is the death of a person caused by the wrongful act or omission of another person. It is important to note that a wrongful death action is a civil case for which money damages can be awarded. It is not a criminal case, and is not intended to hold a defendant criminally liable.

However, on some occasions a defendant who wrongfully causes a death may be charged criminally and also sued civilly for the wrongful death. In a criminal action, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. In a civil action, the plaintiff must prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not. Because the criminal and civil actions have different standards of proof, the results in the two actions may be different. For example, in the famous cases involving O.J. Simpson, he was found not guilty in his criminal case, but was found liable for damages in a California civil wrongful death action.

Who Has the Right to Bring an Action for Wrongful Death?

When a wrongful death action is appropriate, Oregon Revised Statutes Annotated Section 30.020 provides that the decedent’s “personal representative” may maintain an action against the wrongdoer. A “personal representative” is usually the person under probate law who administers the decedent’s estate, and can be identified by a variety of terms, including “executor” and “administrator.”

The personal representative maintains the action for the benefit of family members. On some occasions, the action may be brought on behalf of non-family members, if those individuals would be entitled to inherit from the deceased under the laws of the decedent’s domicile. The question of who will be the beneficiary of the lawsuit is often simple, but can be complex, depending on the facts of an individual case. The attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield can help you analyze this issue.

What Damages May Be Recovered?

The following is a list of typical damages that are recoverable in an Oregon wrongful death action:

  • Reasonable and necessary expenses incurred by the deceased for hospital services, doctor’s bills, nursing services, medical services, memorial services, and burial services;
  • Pain, suffering, disability, and lost income suffered by the decedent during the time period between the injury to the decedent and his or her death;
  • Compensation for pecuniary loss to the decedent’s estate;
  • Fair and reasonable compensation to certain family members (the decedent’s spouse, children, stepchildren, parents and stepparents) for pecuniary loss, and for loss of services, companionship, and society of the decedent; and
  • Punitive damages, if the decedent would have been entitled to them if he or she had lived.

Understand Your Rights

If you believe that a loved one has been killed by the wrongful acts of another person, please call us at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield with any questions you might have, or for a free consultation. We are experienced in wrongful death law, and can help you determine whether you have a cause of action and how to best pursue it if you do. We are familiar with the applicable statute of limitation and can help you make sure that you pursue your claim in a timely manner. While we understand that nothing can make right the painful loss of a loved one, we will take pride in helping make sure that the wrongdoer is held responsible for his or her actions.


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