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Determining When You Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In the event that someone you know has died as the result of wrongful actions by another person or entity, a wrongful death lawsuit could be filed. In 2019, more than 36,000 people died in car accidents, and many were caused by another driver's negligence. Before you look into filing a wrongful death lawsuit, it's important to determine your eligibility.

What Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Involve?

Wrongful death lawsuits in New Jersey are filed in civil court. The amount of compensation that a plaintiff received can vary depending upon the circumstances. In some cases, they are filed around the same time that the responsible party is the subject of a criminal prosecution for the act that led to the fatality. While some wrongful death claims are straightforward, others are more complex, which is why it's important to identify who can file this type of lawsuit before you begin the process of doing so.

New Jersey Laws Pertaining to Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Each state has its own laws that dictate when and how a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed. In order for a wrongful death claim to be filed, it needs to have qualified as a personal injury lawsuit if the victim had not died. Whether the action that caused the death was intentional or negligent, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed. Obviously, decedents no longer have the ability to file the claim on their own, so another party will be required to act as the plaintiff. There is also a statute of limitations that applies, just as is the case with a personal injury lawsuit. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for this type of lawsuit is two years from the date that the decedent died. If you don't remember to file the lawsuit by the end of the two-year period, your claim will likely be barred absent certain exceptions. If you find that the two-year deadline is quickly approaching, it is highly recommended that you speak with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.

Who Is Able to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When you want to file a wrongful death lawsuit in New Jersey, only surviving family members are allowed to obtain compensation. However, the lawsuit itself is often filed by a personal representative or the executor of the decedent's will. In the event that a family member was dependent on the decedent during the latter's lifetime, they will be able to receive some of the compensation from the wrongful death lawsuit. The same is true of people who are entitled to receive an inheritance from the deceased person's estate. The classes of people who can receive damages from a wrongful death case include:
  • The decedent's surviving parents, siblings, nephews, and nieces
  • Anyone who can prove that they were dependent on the decedent
  • The decedent's surviving children or grandchildren
  • The decedent's surviving spouse
In the majority of wrongful death cases, the surviving children or spouse will come first. If there are no surviving children or spouse, the surviving parents will receive compensation. In the event that there are no surviving parents, any surviving grandparents, nephews, nieces, or siblings will be eligible for the compensation from a wrongful death lawsuit. No matter which party files the wrongful death lawsuit, the same burden of proof will be maintained to ensure that compensation is fairly awarded. Keep in mind that there are times when disputes arise in regards to who can file a wrongful death claim. If two family members are thinking about filing a lawsuit, it's possible that both claims would be rolled into one lawsuit before it goes to court. There's also a chance that the court would determine which family member could file the lawsuit before the case begins. Speaking with a personal injury attorney can answer any questions you might have about this type of case.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim

While wrongful death lawsuits are very similar to personal injury claims, there are some key differences in the types of damages that can be sought. Wrongful death damages can be separated into economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages can include funeral expenses, the cost of any medical care and treatment (if any) prior to the victim's death, a loss of expected earnings, a loss of benefits, and a loss of a future inheritance. The loss of benefits could refer to medical coverage or pension plans. As for non-economic damages, these may provide you with more compensation since they are less tangible when compared to economic damages, which means that calculations must occur to determine how much money the affected individual would receive. The main types of non-economic damages that you may be eligible for include:
  • A loss of guidance, care, advice, and protection
  • Pain and suffering or mental anguish as a result of the death
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of companionship or love
Because these damages are less tangible than economic ones, you should consider having an experienced attorney by your side who understands what arguments to make that could help you obtain more compensation. Your compensation may also come in the form of punitive damages, which are awarded when the court believes that the defendant should be punished for their negligent or intentional actions. Unlike in some other states, New Jersey does not allow an award of punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. In addition, compensation for emotional distress cannot be sought. However, in some cases, a separate lawsuit based on the infliction of emotional distress can be filed by a family member who was with the decedent at the time of the fatal accident. No matter which damages you seek, it's important to understand that a strong case must be built if you want to maximize the amount of compensation you obtain. If your case isn't strong, the possibility of obtaining high compensation will lower significantly. An attorney who has handled many wrongful death lawsuits in the past should provide you with the legal representation you deserve.

How an Allentown Personal Injury Attorney Can Help You

Wrongful death lawsuits can be difficult to navigate. Along with making sure that you're eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, fault will need to be proven, which means that evidence must be gathered. No matter the cause of death, our Allentown personal injury attorneys have the ability and experience that is needed to help you understand which legal options are best for you. In order to determine fault in a wrongful death case, we will be tasked with proving that the defendant was negligent, which means that an extensive investigation must take place immediately. Before the case begins, we'll work with you to make sure that there's enough evidence to support your claim. A lawsuit may be advisable if you believe that you aren't receiving enough compensation for the wrongful death that has occurred. Our attorneys can also assist you in identifying how much compensation you're owed, which is essential when negotiating with insurance providers and other parties that may have financial responsibility. If someone close to you has recently died through the wrongful actions of another person, call our Allentown personal injury attorneys at (610) 435-7400 to request representation for your case.

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