Wrongful Death Civil Lawsuits

Wrongful death civil lawsuits are designed to award monetary damages to the survivors a person who was killed as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional acts. Wrongful death actions are usually brought in state civil courts and wrongful death damages consist only of monetary damages.

How Do Wrongful Death Civil Suits Work?

In the U.S., people owe some basic duties to each other. The duty of care imposes an obligation on people not to do actions negligently, which cause harm to someone else. People are also prohibited form causing intentional harm. In many case, failure to fulfill these duties can result in criminal prosecution. For example, if you intentionally shoot and kill someone, you may be prosecuted for murder.

A civil action, or a tort action, for wrongful death is distinct from a criminal action. In a civil action, no one is going to be sent to jail for the actions that caused the death. Instead, the person who committed the tort may be ordered to pay monetary damages to the person who was the victim of the tort- or, in the case of a wrongful death suit- to the victim’s family. The standard of proof in civil actions is different than in criminal actions, which explains why OJ Simpson was found innocent of murdering his wife but still lost the wrongful death civil suit.

Wrongful death civil suits are usually, but not always, brought in state civil court Wrongful death actions cannot usually be brought in small claims court because the damages sought are often too high.

Requirements for Wrongful Death Suits

A wrongful death suit must be brought within the statute of limitations, which means that the wrongful death survivors must sue within the period of time that the state mandates. Every state is entitled to set a different statute of limitations, although two years seems to be a common choice. This means you must bring a lawsuit within two years of the death- or within two years of knowing the death is wrongful- in order to be within the statute of limitations.

Damages in Wrongful Death Suits

Monetary damages in wrongful death suits are awarded to survivors. These damages include medical bills, the loss of the income the deceased person would have provided to the survivors, loss of companionship, and pain and suffering. In some cases, punitive damages may also be paid to the survivors, but this is not available in all states and usually the acts leading to the death must have been egregious or intentional. 

In most cases, these wrongful death damages are paid to survivors tax free under IRS Publication 4345, so there are no wrongful death settlement taxes. However if the assets are viewed as part of the decedent’s estate and the estate is large enough, the damages may be subject to estate tax.

Getting Legal Help

If you have questions on filing a wrongful death civil suit, the monetary damages associated with such a suit, or wrongful death settlement taxes, you should contact an experienced wrongful death attorney. Due to the statute of limitations, your time may be limited, so don’t hesitate to find help if you need it.

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