Losing a loved one is never easy. Whether they were 8 or 80, coming to terms with their loss can be difficult, especially when you have the feeling that someone else's negligence or wrongdoing had something to do with their passing. In cases like this, you do have the ability to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person you believe is responsible for your loved one's death. Some people do not file a case when they indeed should — and this is often because they've heard one of these common untruths about wrongful death lawsuits.
You can only file a case against a doctor.
Many wrongful death lawsuits are, in fact, filed against doctors and other healthcare providers. These people are in a position that gives them a lot of control over the patient's health, and mistakes they make could be considered negligence, depending on the circumstances. However, wrongful death cases do not have to be against a healthcare provider. They can actually be against anyone whose actions led to your loved one's death. Some common examples include the following:
- A driver whose actions led to a collision in which your loved one lost their life.
- The manufacturer of a product that killed your loved one.
- The designer of a building, sidewalk, or other structure that led to an injury that ultimately resulted in your loved one's death.
These are just examples. If you can pinpoint a person whose actions resulted in your loved one's death, you should consider filing a case against that person.
Filing a wrongful death case is akin to accusing someone of murder.
There is an important distinction here. Murder is a criminal charge. If someone is convicted of murder, they will get jail time and perhaps even the death penalty. Suing someone for wrongful death is a civil matter. If the judge rules that the person's actions did lead to your loved one's death, that person will have to pay you money. They won't end up with a criminal record or go to jail.
This should not be taken to mean that you cannot sue someone for wrongful death if they murdered your loved one. You can. The murder case and your civil case against that person are two separate cases.
Note that many cases of wrongful death are not murder. For example, if a surgeon fails to notice a sign of infection and treat your loved one, and they die as a result, that is definitely a mistake — but it is not murder because there was certainly no intent to do harm.
You can only file a wrongful death case if the deceased is your immediate family member.
Most people who file wrongful death cases do so on behalf of a child, parent, or sibling. However, you can typically file a wrongful death case as long as you are someone who will suffer financially or socially due to the loss of your loved one. There have been cases in which an aunt or uncle files on behalf of their nephew or niece. Life partners can file for their deceased partners in most states, too. The one struggle you may run into is that if there is a more closely-related family member who is affected by the death, that person may have to file — not you. However, you can certainly work with that person and the lawyer to file the suit.
Don't let these misconceptions prevent you from filing a wrongful death case if your loved one has lost their life due to someone else's negligence. Talk to a wrongful death lawyer about the details of your case for more information.