What Is a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful Death Lawsuits

A wrongful death case is a lawsuit filed against a person or entity, such as a corporation, for causing death. The claim comes from the heirs of the person who died, known as the decedent. In the lawsuit, the heirs ask the court to find that some action or failure to act by the defendant caused death. If the court agrees, it can order the defendant to pay monetary damages of various types depending on the circumstances and facts of the case. Punitive damages are one kind of award that the court can order.

Automobile accidents resulting in the death of a person may qualify as a wrongful death case, including cases where a part of the car malfunctioned, increasing the severity of the crash. For example, if an airbag fails to deploy, and the driver dies, the evidence may show that he or she could have survived the accident if the component had performed as designed. The heirs might be able to file suit against the manufacturer of the car or the airbag or both.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

The laws on this subject vary by state, but in most cases, any heir of the decedent may file a wrongful death case. Usually, this means the deceased person’s spouse, children, or parents can bring the suit.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Punitive damages, also called exemplary damages, are intended to punish the defendant for outrageous or egregious conduct that led to the death. In auto accident cases, punitive damages might be in order if the defendant was driving recklessly or far above the speed limit or while intoxicated. However, it’s important to note that auto insurance policies almost always exclude punitive damages from coverage. Therefore, if heirs file a suit and win, and the court orders punitive damages, they may never collect any of the punitive amounts unless the defendant has significant personal assets.

If the heirs are successful in collecting punitive damages, the award may pose some tax implications. While compensatory awards and pain and suffering and usually not taxable as income, punitive damages are. The family needs the advice of an attorney or other tax professional to decide how to minimize the tax burden.

How Do I Get Help With a Wrongful Death Case?

As soon as possible, you should consult an experienced and knowledgeable wrongful death lawyer in Trenton, NJ who thoroughly understands the laws in your jurisdiction. Wrongful death case laws vary, so you need someone with experience in your state. Losing a loved one is hard enough; you don’t have to fight through a court battle alone.

Thanks to Davis & Brusca for their insight into personal injury claims and punitive damages against a driver that lead to a wrongful death.