Wrongful death is a type of lawsuit that permits the family of a deceased person to recover damages from the person or persons responsible for their loved one’s death. Wrongful death suits are brought in response to the passing of a person. Nevada only permits the immediate family, dependents or representatives of the deceased’s estate to bring a wrongful death suit.
Overview of Wrongful Death
The plaintiff in a wrongful death suit is, technically, the deceased person who is represented by his estate. The family, while the real parties behind the lawsuit, are technically not directly named. However, the State of Nevada permits immediate family members, dependents, and representatives of the estate to a wrongful death suit.
Immediate family members only include siblings and parents. It excludes cousins, aunts, uncles and any other extended family. However, Nevada does permit any “dependents” to bring suit. A dependent is any person that is legally dependent on the deceased person. The typical example is children. However, it can include family members or even friends for which the decedent (deceased person) was legally responsible. Nevada specifically prohibits foster children, stepchildren, unmarried partners and fiancés / fiancées from bringing a lawsuit.
To prevail, the plaintiff must connect the death of his loved one with the wrongful or unlawful actions of another person. Any person’s action is unlawful if it resulted in another persons’ death and there was no legal justification (i.e. self-defense).
Complications Inherent to Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims are, unfortunately, complicated to execute properly. Wrongful death suits always entail the unlawful or wrongful death of a person which is inevitably a surprise for family and friends. Often the family must grieve for their loved one while prosecuting a lawsuit. Wrongful death cases combine the stress of prosecuting a case with the unhinging loss of a loved one, a difficult undertaking for anyone.
Moreover, these cases take at least a year (or more) to resolve. Therefore, family members are often required to relive the death of their loved one repeatedly. Family members are interviewed by their attorneys, deposed by opposing counsel, and sit as witnesses during the trial. Many families often discuss their inability to move on because the case is pending.
These cases inevitably push attorneys into multiple roles including counselor, therapist, and friend. Many lawyers struggle with the intimacy that these lawsuits often demand which can become a point of friction during the attorney-client relationship. There are not many attorneys with the emotional and professional experience to balance the various roles that are forced upon them in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths
Wrongful death suits arise in any number of different situations, but they mainly break down into two categories, deaths due to illegal actions and unlawful actions. An illegal action is one that rises to the level of criminality. An unlawful action, while against the law, is not necessarily criminal.
A famous example of an illegal action is the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Mr. Simpson avoided a criminal conviction however the families of the victims successfully brought wrongful death suits against him. It is possible for a person to avoid a criminal conviction but still lose a wrongful death lawsuit. Typical examples of illegal actions that result in wrongful deaths are drunken driving accidents. It is illegal to drink and drive, therefore if those actions result in the death of another, a wrongful death suit may arise.
Wrongful deaths typically occur in two situations, car collisions and workplace accidents. Thousands of people die in car accidents every year, on freeways, streets, and highways. Similarly, certain professions are inherently dangerous and result in a disproportionate number of workplace fatalities, i.e. construction and industry.
Damages refer to money that a family or estate can recover for the death of their loved one. Wrongful death suits, unlike other personal injury cases, are limited to the damages that are recoverable. Plaintiffs can typically recover money for funeral expenses, lost anticipated earnings, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, there are caveats for many of these claims.
For example, lost wages and anticipated earnings must be established by sufficient evidence, which requires the plaintiff to submit proof that the decedent was gainfully employed and likely to remain employed. Unfortunately, this means that children and the elderly decedents are unable to qualify for large claims for damages. Children cannot establish anticipated earnings because they do not have sufficient professional or educational history to form a baseline income reliably. Similarly, the elderly are beyond the years in which they could continue to earn a wage.
Moreover, pain and suffering damages are limited only to the pain and suffering of the deceased person in the moments before death. Family members must bring separate lawsuits to recover their emotional pain connected to the passing.