A wrongful death lawsuit can be brought against anyone who is believed to have caused someone’s death. The lawsuit can be brought against the person who caused the death (known as the defendant), by the estate of the person who has died or anyone related to, or close to, the person who is deceased.
That means that if someone close to you has been killed, and you believe they died through the negligence or direct actions of another person, you are entitled to bring a lawsuit against that person, as they are in some way responsible. But this may be hard to define in some circumstances, so let’s take a closer look at exactly what qualifies for a wrongful death lawsuit.
It’s important to note, however, that this is a very brief overview and will not contain all the information you need if you are considering taking legal action. The best thing to do in such circumstances is always to get advice from a licensed professional.
What Is Wrongful Death?
As this is a legal term, it can be open to interpretation but, in general, wrongful death refers to a death that has occurred as a result of the negligence of a person, a government employee, or a private company.
The action that causes the death can be intentional, as was proven in the successful wrongful death suit brought against OJ Simpson. Or, it can be unintentional, and still be classed as wrongful death, such as in the case brought against Pfizer by Gregor Omdahl, the brother of Phil Hartman’s wife, Brynn Hartman.
What Is Negligence?
The American legal system is based on English Common Law and one of the guiding principles of Common Law is the theory of ‘reasonable man’. Negligence can be proven if the person responsible for the death did not keep to the standards of the community, which is the ‘reasonable’ part.
For example, if someone walks under a piano being hauled up the side of a building and the rope snaps, killing the person below, it could be argued that the death was a ‘wrongful’ death.
The area below the piano should have been cordoned off as a reasonable person would assume that – because there were no barriers or warning signs – it was safe to walk there. Therefore, the person responsible for pulling up the piano could be sued for wrongful death.
Who Can Sue?
This very much depends on where you live. In America, it varies from state to state. If you are a member of the deceased’s immediate family, then you will certainly have a right to bring a claim. However, you may also be able to bring a wrongful death suit if you are a:
- Domestic or life partner
- Person who will suffer financially
Although in most cases those family members and affected parties mentioned above are eligible to bring a claim, it is always best to speak to a lawyer if you believe you may have a claim for wrongful death. A reputable law firm such as McGilberry & Shirer LLP will be able to advise you on your specific circumstances.
Who Can Be Sued?
Anyone can be sued for wrongful death if you can prove they acted negligently. Car drivers, builders, doctors, even a bartender who serves alcohol to someone who has clearly had enough, can be sued.
In very simple terms, if a ‘reasonable man’ could have predicted the consequences of an action done by a person, a company, or a government employee might have led to someone’s death, that person or entity can be sued.
Of course, genuine accidents do happen and there isn’t always someone to blame. However, if the old adage that it was an accident waiting to happen is true in the case of your loved one or family member, then you may have a case to bring. If you are suffering in any way due to the loss of someone close to you through negligent actions, you have the right to bring a lawsuit against the person or company responsible.