Massachusetts Legal Blog
Complications Involved in Wrongful Death Suits
Moving on from the loss of a loved one is extremely difficult, especially if you must bear the weight of leftover hospital bills and a sudden drop in household income. That is why, if your loved one died due to someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, such as in a traffic collision, you may be able to pursue damages in a wrongful death suit. However, while the laws and processes are similar to a personal injury claim, but there are key differences that make these cases more complex.
Wrongful Death Vs. Personal Injury Claims
Following an accident involving an injury, a victim may be able to recover compensation if they can prove that the at-fault party acted negligently. This is often done by filing a personal injury claim against the at-fault party—whether it is a single individual or a company—insurance policy. Damages involved in a personal injury claim can include medical bills associated with the injury, any income lost due to a drop in working hours, pain and suffering, and mental anguish, among other economic and non-economic losses.
Wrongful death suits operate on many of the same principles—the at-fault party must have acted negligently, there must be an injury, and victims must prove damages—but do have different limitations. Wrongful death suits are filed based on the concept that if the victim had survived, they would have filed a personal injury claim. These cases are often filed on behalf of the victim’s estate, which can include a spouse, child, parent, or any other dependents who suffered a loss due to the victim’s death.
When comparing wrongful death claims to personal injury claims, damages are among the unique differences. While a living victim can pursue specific economic and non-economic damages, the victim’s estate can file damages for:
- Medical expenses accrued before the time of death
- Funeral expenses
- Loss of consortium (love and intimacy)
- Pain and suffering prior to the time of death
- Estimated financial loss
Financial losses can vary depending on the case, as children and adults are evaluated differently. Adults may have verifiable income based on how much they made on an annual basis, children do not, but courts can assign value based on the potential earning capacity of the child and their life expectancy, though it is not a clear-cut formula.
Wrongful death claims also have limits on what accidents can lead to a claim. In the state of Massachusetts, you cannot file a wrongful death claim if the deceased died due to a:
- On the job accident
- Railroad accident where they were on or near the tracks
- Streetcar accident where they were on or near the tracks
In addition to these unique differences between personal injury and wrongful death claims, surviving family members must contend with other complications.
Issues Claimants Face
In addition to determining damages, a wrongful death suit may also involve multiple parties who are all seeking damages related to the death. Traditionally, courts focus on the victim’s household when determining the order of who can file a claim, often providing priority to:
- Next of kin (siblings, cousins, etc.), if unmarried
In addition to these individuals, the claim must have a representative of the estate to act as the plaintiff. This is often someone outlined in the deceased will who has the legal authority to bring a claim forward on behalf of the surviving family members, but if no one is available, then the family’s attorney can file to act as the representative.
However, you might be wondering, how many family members are allowed to seek damages? In the state of Massachusetts, only one wrongful death claim can be filed for the deceased. This means that when the representative files the claim, they can do it on behalf of the entire family or for specific individuals, such as a spouse and children, and divide the recovered compensation accordingly. This may prove difficult if one family member claims that they are eligible to receive more compensation than another.
Another complication is the deadline to file a claim. A deceased estate has up to three years from the time of death to file a claim against an at-fault party. However, if a claimant was not aware that they were able to file a claim, then this timeline can pass without them noticing. However, Massachusetts courts do allow claimants to file based on the discovery date, or the date when they learned that the deceased had died due to negligence, such as if they discovered new evidence or an investigation ruled that negligence was involved in the death.
The Advantages of DiBella Law Offices, P.C.
Successfully litigating a wrongful death suit requires extensive experience with personal injury and negligence laws as well as how the courts may evaluate and distribute damages. If the claim involves multiple family members, it may also be helpful that your lawyer has experience in family law to provide compassionate and thorough advice to all claimants.
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, please reach out to the DiBella Law Offices, P.C. Our Burlington wrongful death lawyer can provide a sympathetic representation to family members who are struggling with their grief and in need of legal advice about how to move forward with a claim. We offer free initial consultations to all potential clients, meaning there is no cost to speaking to us about your case. Call us at (781) 262-3338 to learn how we can represent you in a wrongful death claim.
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