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May 16, 2022

Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When someone dies because of the negligence of someone else, the decedent’s estate representative, or his or her surviving spouse or dependents, can file a wrongful death claim. When a loved one dies in an accident, his or her family faces financial hardship from funeral costs, lost income, and sometimes pre-death medical expenses. A wrongful death settlement can help to ease the family’s financial burden. But who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit? Working with a wrongful death attorney can help a decedent’s loved ones obtain fair compensation and hold negligent parties accountable for the fatal accident.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil lawsuit brought against a negligent person or entity that is responsible for the death of another person. In Nevada, a person is liable for a victim’s death if that person unlawfully causes another to die. This liability is established regardless of whether the killing was intentional or resulted from negligence. Wrongful death can also apply in cases of intentional violence and can happen simultaneously to a criminal case. When this occurs, the civil case provides compensation for the loved one’s death, while the criminal case punishes the defendant for his or her actions.

Wrongful death is different from a personal injury case, mostly in terms of who can seek compensation, how compensation is determined and how it is paid. A wrongful death lawyer can help determine if you have a viable case.

Four elements must exist in a wrongful death claim for it to be valid. First, a victim must have died. Next, the death must have occurred due to another party’s wrongful or negligent act. Third, the plaintiff must have a legal right to file the wrongful death claim according to Nevada law. Finally, the plaintiff filing the wrongful death claim must have suffered damages.

A death certificate or medical records can be used as evidence that someone died. To prove negligent or intentional actions caused the victim to die, eyewitness testimony or videos, medical experts, or accident reconstructionists can be used as evidence. The only people who have a legal right to file a wrongful death claim are the heirs of the decedent and/or personal representatives of the decedent.

To demonstrate that the defendant’s actions resulting in damages will require hospital bills or other evidence of medical expenses, funeral or burial expenses, loss of financial support, and intangible losses like loss of parental guidance, companionship, and affection.

Common Causes of Wrongful Death Accidents

Some common causes of wrongful death cases include vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, slip and falls, and defective products.

Motor Vehicle accidents: Trucks and motorcycle accidents often lead to a wrongful death claim. The insurance company will more than likely try to settle this quickly with the plaintiff, which is why it’s important to involve a wrongful death attorney to ensure you receive the full amount of compensation owed.

Medical malpractice: Sepsis is the leading cause of death in hospitals. Patients can sue the hospital for getting sepsis, while loved ones can sue when a decedent passed away from sepsis. Other reasons for medical malpractice wrongful death claims include misdiagnosis, prescription errors, surgical mistakes, and anesthesia administration errors.

Slips and falls: Premises liability refers to laws that hold property and business owners are responsible for accidents or incidents that occur on their property. Nevada premises liability laws include accidents, assaults, attacks, or other incidents that occur on someone else’s property. When the incident results in death, a wrongful death claim can be made.

Product liability: These cases hold the designers, manufacturers, sellers, and suppliers of a defective product liable for the death of a consumer.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

One of the differences between a personal injury claim and a wrongful death case is that the person injured has died, meaning, they’re not able to recover damages. Instead, qualifying surviving dependents must recover damages on their behalf. Some states, like Nevada, limit who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit. For instance, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death claim, as can the deceased person’s surviving spouse, domestic partner or children.

If the decedent did not have a partner or child, then his or her parents can file the wrongful death claim. If there are other parties that can demonstrate to the court that they were financially dependent on the decedent, they may also have grounds to file a wrongful death claim. A wrongful death attorney can tell you how to file a wrongful death claim.

Some states do place a statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim. In Nevada, a plaintiff has two years from the date of the deceased person’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

How Are Wrongful Death Damages Calculated?

The value of a wrongful death claim depends on the circumstances specific to the case. Usually, an insurance company, judge, or jury will determine compensation based on the economic and non-economic damages the family can prove.

Financial damages in a wrongful death lawsuit cover:

  • Medical bills up to the decedent’s time of death
  • Property damage incurred in the accident
  • Reasonable funeral and burial costs
  • Lost earnings and inheritance to heirs
  • Lost employment benefits, which can include health insurance
  • Loss of a loved one’s affection, care, and companionship

Punitive damages, which are meant to penalize or punish the at-fault party, are only awarded in claims in which the defendant acted maliciously or with extreme recklessness. In Nevada, there are limitations and certain conditions must be met for punitive damages to be considered.

Although an insurance policy usually pays a defendant’s damages in a wrongful death claim, it often falls short of the amount of money the claimant is seeking.

Who Receives Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Nevada law outlines how wrongful death lawsuit compensation is divided among surviving family members. This law states that a deceased person’s heirs are entitled to a portion of a settlement award. The legal definition of an heir extends to a person who would be entitled to a portion of the estate if the deceased had died without a will.

Each heir may go before the courts to prove the respective damages connected to the wrongful death. Heirs can prove grief, sorrow, loss of support, companionship, and comfort to establish eligibility for a portion of the settlement. Heirs also can seek compensation based on the deceased person’s pain, suffering, or disfigurement.

The court will divide a settlement, then, in proportion to each heir’s respective damages. In general, the largest portion of a wrongful death settlement will go to a surviving spouse or domestic partner, with the next portion going to any surviving children. It will then be further divided if there are other beneficiaries that could provide loss suffered because of a decedent’s death.

How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help

When a loved one dies because of someone else’s negligence, proving wrongful death requires a variety of elements to be established. A wrongful death attorney can assist the decedent’s loved ones by helping to do several things, including:

  • Negotiate for a fair settlement from the defendant’s attorneys or insurance company
  • Compile available evidence, such as eyewitness accounts, video surveillance, relevant written communications, medical records, coroner’s report, etc.
  • Investigate the circumstances that led to death
  • Find the most reputable expert witnesses necessary to testify on the case if it goes to court.

In addition, a wrongful death lawyer will provide a reasonable estimate on what is an appropriate amount to seek in a settlement or lawsuit, so that the family doesn’t have to try to put a value on the life of the decedent

Mr. Osborne is a seasoned trial lawyer with more than thirty years of litigation experience representing those injured in car accidents, by medical malpractice, or other forms of negligence. He is a member of the Nevada Justice Association and the Multi-Million Dollar Forum.

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