Wrongful death is a lawsuit brought by family members or friends of a person who passed away due to someone else’s actions. Wrongful death is a tort action and it can be brought against a person who was either negligent in causing the death of the victim, or who intentionally caused the death. In many cases, the damages associated with wrongful death for an intentional act can be higher than the damages associated with a wrongful death for mere negligence.
When Wrongful Death is Considered Intentional
Wrongful death is a civil suit, which means it is an action that one person (or entity, such as a company) brings against another person or entity. It is distinct from criminal liability. However intentional actions that lead to a wrongful death are often both civil and criminal matters. For example, if a person kills his wife, he may be tried in criminal court for murder. His wife’s surviving family members may also sue him for wrongful death for the intentional action that led to his wife’s death.
An intentional action that leads to someone’s death and a wrongful death suit is distinct from a negligent action that leads to someone’s death. For example, if a person is not paying attention and causes a car accident, that person may have breached his duty of care and may be sued and liable for tort damages for his negligent act. If a person intentionally runs someone over, on the other hand, he may be liable for tort damages for his intentional act.
Under laws of intent, the intentional action need not have been to specifically harm the person who died. For example, if you intend to shoot someone and you accidentally shoot the person standing next to your chosen victim, your action was still an intentional action designed to cause harm and you can still be sued for wrongful death as a result of your intentional tort.
Compensation Wrongful Death Damages
Standard non intended acts for wrongful death damages include:
- Medical Expenses
- Burial expenses
- Lost wages the deceased would have earned, but for the death
- Other lost benefits that would have been available if the decedent wasn’t killed, such as retirement benefits, health insurance costs and such
- Pain and suffering for the deceased
- Pain and suffering for the survivors as a result of the loss of their family member
These types of standard damages are available in wrongful death actions brought for both intentional acts and negligent acts. Although some of the damages available in the case of accidental death are non economic damages, many of these damages result tangible losses. However, if the wrongful death was the result of an intentional act, punitive damages may be assessed in some jurisdictions.
Compensation from Punitive
Damages for Intentional Acts
These non economic damages are not available in all states, and when they are available you usually must prove that the wrongful death was the result of extreme negligence or an intentional act to collect them.
When available, punitive damages are different from other damages. They are not damages designed to compensate the victim (or in this case, the victim’s survivors) and make them whole. Instead, they are designed to punish the person who committed the intentional act that led to the death. Although they are designed for punishment, however, they are still paid to the plaintiff in the wrongful death lawsuit.
Getting Legal Help
If you are considering suing for wrongful death, you need to contact an attorney with experience in wrongful death litigation. These lawsuits are often more complex than simple personal injury cases due to the difficulty of valuing the lost life. When punitive damages are a possibility and the death is a result of an intentional act, it is even more important to contact a wrongful death attorney who can help make sure you get the compensation you deserve.