Wrongful death is a delicate accusation and often the circumstances are tragic for everyone. More often than not, a wrongful death suit is filed when the family of someone who has died by accident feels that there is a negligent responsible party. From landlords who did not fix a broken porch step to a drunk driver who veered off the road, if an action of yours has resulted in someone’s death, then you can be held liable in a wrongful death civil case. However, no matter how delicate and tragic the situation may be or how accidental the death, the consequences can still be dire.
Civil vs. Legal Charges in a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death, like a personal injury claim, is a civil-only case. Therefore, while the consequences can’t result in jail time, the monetary consequences can be anything from minimal to bankrupting depending on how liable the court finds you. However, while you’re defending yourself against the wrongful death civil case, you can be tried for any criminal aspects of the situation at the same time. If the court decides that you are, in fact, wrongfully responsible for the death, all money paid will be in the form of damages paid to the family for their loss and hardship caused by the death of their loved one.
Funeral Burial and Expenses
Even if the court doesn’t feel that you caused the death through maliciousness or extreme negligence, if you are still found responsible then they will probably at least ask you to pay for the person’s funeral and burial expenses. This is meant to take some of the financial burdens off the family and the costs are limited what is considered a funeral of average expense based on the current local prices.
Care and Treatment Between Incident and Death
Unfortunately, another procedural cost that may be levied despite a lack of malicious intent or extreme negligence is any hospital, treatment, and medication costs that were incurred between the fatal accident and the actual death of the person in question. These can rack up to tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars including surgeries that may have occurred. While it’s understandable that the family would want to relieve these costs if you are not actually responsible this transferred financial burden can be not only unfair but debilitating.
Loss of Care for Survivors
As the list goes on, the amount you may be required to pay the family can increase significantly depending on how much the court finds you responsible, negligent, or malicious in intent. If the court deems that the family lost a significant amount of “care, services, protection, and assistance”. What this means in real terms is that the person who died took care fo their family including things like child care, maintaining the home, taking care of elderly relatives, and protecting the family from danger, especially if they would have to pay for these services after the loss of their relative.
Loss of Income for Survivors
Next is a loss of income from the deceased’s career. The court can, if they so choose, demand that you make up the family for the income that supported them that was lost upon the death of their relative. This will be equal to their salary for a certain period of time or a sum that the court feels will help the family through until they can find another way to make up for the lost income.
Sorrow and Mental Anguish Caused to Survivors
Sorrow and mental anguish damages are usually levied when the death was particularly traumatic and family was either present or exposed to horror between the event and the person’s death. Grisly car wrecks, family members who were also injured in the accident, and painful experiences in the time between the accident and death if the death didn’t happen immediately can all result in a sometimes astronomical sorrow and mental anguish damages payments.
Loss of Society and Companionship for Survivors
Finally, there are situations in which the loss of the dead family member can significantly change the social structure and lifestyle of the surviving family members. Society damages can be demanded if the family lost access to their community through death and companionship is incredibly common in the case of a surviving spouse whose loss of a lifetime partner is valued very highly.
The most important thing to remember about a wrongful death lawsuit is that no matter how badly you feel for the family if you’re not responsible then should not be required to pay damages that could ruin you financially. Even if you have some legal responsibility, as in the case of a landlord, it is very possible that the court could demand unfair damages because they feel the same sympathy for the family’s loss. If you are facing a wrongful death lawsuit, you will need a lawyer who can sort out the difference between emotion and fact and defend your right to life even if someone accidentally lost theirs.
For more legal advice on wrongful death in Minnesota, please contact us today.