To obtain fair compensation after a loved one’s fatal accident, it is important to know how a wrongful death lawsuit works in Nevada. This knowledge can help the family can get the proper amount of money owed to the estate for present and future expenses and damages.
Wrongful death accidents leave behind grieving families who may be left with medical expenses and burial fees that are beyond what they are able to pay. This is especially true if the death involved the sole or the main financial provider. A wrongful death lawsuit can help the bereaved pay for these funeral expenses and other medical bills that resulted from the fatal accident. The details of the individual accident or incident can influence how much money the family might be awarded by the court if they do file a claim.
An estimated 100,000 Americans died last year from what is known as wrongful death, although that number could be higher due to unreported numbers. A wrongful death is a death that was not the fault of the deceased, but instead the result of another party’s negligence, actions, or inaction. The at-fault party can include an individual, a company, or another entity.
What Constitutes Wrongful Death?
In Nevada, wrongful death is defined as a death that is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another person or entity. This neglect is also known as negligence, which is the lack of action or care that helps to keep accidents from happening and prevents injuries or fatalities. Fatal car accidents, deadly forms of medical malpractice, and intentional actions that cause the death of another all qualify as wrongful deaths.
Wrongful death lawsuits occur in civil courts and focus on monetary compensation that can be awarded as damages paid by the liable party to the family or estate of the deceased. Unlike a criminal court, in which the defendant could face possible jail time, fines, or other penalties, civil cases focus on compensatory damages. Intentional actions, such as assault and battery or a car accident, might also be pursued in a criminal court if the actions of the liable party are egregious. However, that does not mean that the family cannot sue the defendant in a civil lawsuit.
Damages Available in Wrongful Death Claims
In a civil wrongful death case, to be awarded damages, the plaintiff must provide evidence that proves that the action or inaction of the defendant is more than likely the cause of the death. This is different from a criminal court, where defendants have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the plaintiff can provide enough proof to show that the defendant is liable, then he or she will have a high chance of winning his or her case.
A wrongful death lawyer can help the family get damages that include lost wages the deceased would have earned, pain and suffering, and loss of companionship. These are known as compensatory damages, and they amount to the estimate of the actual loss of the person or his or her estate. The damages can also include any medical expenses that occurred due to the accident that lead to the death of the family member. Additional damages that can be awarded in a wrongful death suit include punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to prevent the same negligent behavior from happening again by punishing the defendant.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim for Fatal Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can be tough to prove, as the plaintiff will have to prove that the death was due to negligence on the part of the doctor and not because of a previous medical condition. The plaintiff will also need to prove that death was not the naturally occurring outcome of that condition. Knowing the signs of medical malpractice can help the family know if they have a good enough case to present in court. In medical malpractice cases, it is important to get all the correct evidence to present to the court. This might include older medical records of the deceased, rather than just the ones related to the death.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
A wrongful death lawsuit takes the place of the personal injury claim that the injured party is no longer around to file, as they are deceased. This allows the family to get the money that the injured party would have received if he or she had still be able to file his or her case. A lawsuit can be filed in the form of a survivor action, or a wrongful death claim, depending on whether the case is filed by the estate or the family.
Not just anyone is able to file the claim on the behalf of the deceased, as legally, only certain people are eligible to do so. The following parties can file this action on the decedent’s behalf:
- The executor of the deceased’s estate, either appointed by the court or named in a will.
- A surviving spouse or domestic partner.
- Any children of the deceased, including fully adopted children.
- Parents of the deceased if he or she has no spouse or children.
- Siblings of the deceased if there are no spouses, children, or parents.
- The next closest family member, if there are no surviving spouses, children, parents, or siblings.
These family members are also known as intestate heirs in the legal field. This does not include significant others, friends, or fiancées, even if they are named in the estate as beneficiaries. Immediate family members have the closest claim to file on the behalf of the deceased, but if they have no immediate family, such as a spouse, kids, or parents, then the next closest extended family members are the ones that can file this case.
If the immediate family are still alive, then extended family members are not able to file the claim. A lawyer can help the family to navigate who has the right to file a claim when there are many extended family members involved. The named beneficiaries are, however, who get money in a wrongful death lawsuit.
How a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Works
If a wrongful death occurs, the surviving family members have two years to file their claim for general negligence and one year to file a claim for medical malpractice. Once these two years/one year have passed, the case cannot be filed as it has passed the statute of limitations. If the surviving children are minors, a good question to ask the lawyer is whether their age would affect when the case can be filed. In some states, minors have to wait until they are over eighteen to file a suit, and the statute of limitations is extended to when they are eligible to file.
Because of this limited time frame to be able to file a case, the family should proceed with legal action as soon as possible, giving them the most time to build the case prior to filing and still keeping the claim within the two years allotted.
If damages are awarded in a wrongful death claim, the settlement can help to pay funeral and burial expenses. To be awarded these damages, the plaintiff would have to provide proof that the defendant was the cause of the death. The following can be used as evidence to prove liability in court:
- Video surveillance footage that shows the accident.
- Medical records of the deceased around the time the accident or negligence occurred, as well as before, prove that the death was not naturally occurring.
- Witnesses of the accident can provide testimony.
- Communication by the defendant, both recorded and written, to the deceased or his or her family.
- The testimony from a reconstruction expert.
An attorney can help guide the victim’s family through the entire legal process. He or she can advise the family regarding what will best help their claim and how to prove wrongful death. The defendant might try to give reasons for why he or she is not responsible for the death of the victim, or claim that another party caused the fatal accident. This is why it is important to have a solid case going into the court process to be able to counter any arguments the defense can come up with to avoid having to pay.
An attorney can also try to help negotiate a fair settlement to avoid going to court and having to present evidence to a jury. A settlement may not award as much damages as a trial proceeding could, however, it does mean that the family would get money without having to proceed with the stressful legal battle of a lawsuit. This can also help the family to get this money faster than a trial would allow, as those proceedings can drag on for months, or even years, and are up to the jury’s decision.