Our Blogs

Wrongful Death Claims: How Do They Work?

Written by Berkowitz

gavel and paper with the words wrongful death

When a person dies because of the negligent acts, purposeful acts, or fault of another, the surviving family members may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. In wrongful death claims, the family or estate is seeking compensation for the loss of their loved one, and any benefits they would have received if their loved one survived.

It is important to note that wrongful death claims in the state of Connecticut are involved. They do require the assistance of an attorney, and knowledge about the statutes. Connecticut, like most states, has strict laws regarding what constitutes a wrongful death and what does not.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim occurs when a person dies due to the fault of another. While personal injury laws have been around for some time, the wrongful death lawsuit is relatively new. Over the last century, federal and state courts have both allowed for family members to bring wrongful death actions against those responsible for the untimely demise of a loved one.

Today, all states have some form of wrongful death statute in place – however, these statutes can vary greatly.

A wrongful death claim may involve an accident, complicated malpractice incident, or even a faulty product. Regardless, a person, company, or agency could be legally at fault if they were negligent and their negligence caused the death of another.

Connecticut’s Statute for Wrongful Death

Under Connecticut Code Section 52-555, a wrongful death is a claim that arises from injuries resulting in death. Therefore, it is a personal injury case, but instead of filing a personal injury claim, the estate files a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of the deceased.

The Wrongful Death Claim

The wrongful death claim is the most basic offered by the state, and it seeks damages based on the value of the life of the deceased.

The Estate Claim

The estate claim is filed by the estate and not based on the life of the deceased. Instead, the estate seeks monetary damages and can also request pain and suffering.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Connecticut?

Some states allow surviving family members to file a wrongful death suit, but Connecticut does not. Instead, the executor or administrator of the estate must file the claim on behalf of loved ones.

If the deceased does not have an estate plan, then the executor or administrator is named by the court. After being named, this executor will be able to file the lawsuit.

If the estate’s representative files a lawsuit, they are filing the it on behalf all real parties of interest. These parties may include:

  • Immediate Family Members – Immediate family members can request that the estate file a wrongful death claim on their behalf. Immediate family members include spouses, children, and adopted children.
  • Life Partners or Financial Dependents – After immediate family comes the life partners or financial dependents. A domestic partner that was financially dependent on the deceased may file for compensation.
  • Distant Family Members – More distant family members may receive compensation, but this does not apply in all wrongful death cases. In this instance, a distant family member would include any siblings or grandparents. While still blood relatives, they would need to be financially dependent on, or have specific ties to the deceased – such as a grandparent that was supporting a child.

Who Can Be Sued for a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against a vast array of individuals and companies. However, the parties listed in the suit must be responsible in some way for the death. For example, a motor vehicle accident involving a negligent semi-truck driver may involve parties like:

  • The driver of the semi-truck
  • The employer of the driver
  • The owner of the semi-truck (if different from the driver and employer)
  • The company responsible for maintaining the truck
  • The company that manufactured components of the truck

Are Government Agencies and Their Employees Immune?

Typically, government agencies are immune from lawsuits. In a wrongful death case, the immunity does still apply, but an attorney can better assess if that agency is immune from all civil and criminal liability.

What Damages Can Be Collected in a Wrongful Death Suit?

A wrongful death lawsuit serves two purposes. It compensates for the costs incurred by the deceased, and also compensates family members for their loss.  While some states have damage caps, Connecticut does not. However, damages are limited to the direct costs associated with the death.

Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Economic damages include:

  • Medical Costs
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses
  • Loss of Benefits
  • Loss of Inheritance
  • Value of Services or Goods Victim No Longer Provides

Remember that economic damages are there to make the family members financially whole. Of course, no amount of money could replace the loss of a loved one. While the courts realize this, they allow surviving family members to collect as much as possible to cover the costs that could cripple the family if they had to bear the burden alone.

Non-Economic Damages in a Wrongful Death Case

Non-economic damages have no specified value. This means that you cannot hand over a receipt or statement proving these amounts. While intangible, they can be much higher than economic damages. Some examples of non-economic damages sought in a wrongful death case include:

  • Mental anguish
  • pain and suffering the victim experienced up until his or her death
  • Loss of care, protection, or guidance
  • Loss of love
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium

Non-economic damages are difficult to prove. Typically, the damages here are based on the economic amounts and multiplied to make the value of the case fair. While money will never replace the love and companionship of the person who died, monetary compensation is the only means by which the courts can strive to assist the survivors.

Can Punitive Damages be Awarded?

Punitive damages are there to punish the defendant and serve as a deterrent to the rest of the public. Punitive damages are not typically awarded in a wrongful death case unless gross negligence or malicious intent played a role in the death.

What is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement?

The average price of a wrongful death settlement is complicated to calculate. There is no standard average, and no two cases will ever be the same. Therefore, the only way to find out how much your case is potentially worth is to speak with a wrongful death attorney.

Do You Have Grounds to File a Lawsuit?

Not all deaths qualify as wrongful deaths. As a civil lawsuit, the estate must prove two key elements:

  • The loved one’s death was caused by another party’s negligence, deliberate acts, malicious intent, or reckless behavior. The deceased did not cause his or her own death.
  • That the surviving family members have suffered financially, emotionally, mentally, and have measurable damages associated with their loved one’s death.

Most importantly, you cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit unless the deceased would have had grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. Therefore, the four elements must equally be present:

  1. Duty of Care – Proof that the defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased, such as driving responsibly.
  2. Breach of Duty – Next, you must establish that the defendant breached his or her duty of care. For example, a driver must not drink and drive. Therefore, if a defendant was drunk at the time of the accident, and they caused injuries, they could be held accountable because they breached their duty of care.
  3. Causation – You must show that the defendant not only breached that duty, but the breach was the cause of the injury. A person that breaches their duty by drinking and driving is not responsible for a person tripping on a sidewalk several blocks away.
  4. Damages – An injury must come with damages, which might include financial costs, emotional damage, or physical pain.

Your attorney will help you gather evidence that your loved one would have used as grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit. This evidence will then establish that the wrongful death claim is justified.

The Process of Filing a Wrongful Death Claim

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Connecticut requires a few steps.

  1. Meet with a wrongful death attorney and see if your case qualifies for a lawsuit.
  2. Provide your attorney with the proof of death, such as a death certificate and evidence regarding the death.
  3. Prove your loved one would have pursued a personal injury lawsuit if they would have survived.

Do Not Forget the Statute of Limitations

You have limited time to file your lawsuit. Once the statute of limitations time has passed, you will be barred from filing a lawsuit or collecting compensation. Connecticut requires that you file your wrongful death claim within two years of the date of the death.

In some cases, the two-year mark can be stretched, especially if the discovery of fault is not made until later. However, it is always best to file your lawsuit within the two-year limitation, because the courts do not always recognize the extension.

Speak with a Wrongful Death Attorney Today

After the loss of a loved one, the last thing you want to think about is money or filing a lawsuit. However, sometimes the monetary assistance can help you and family members move on, pay off the expenses associated with your loved one’s death, and get back on your feet.

While we understand no dollar amount will ever replace a loved one, our team at Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC wants to help you as much as we can. Our team cares about you and your family members, and we are here to advocate for your loved one that was taken from you prematurely because of someone’s negligence.

Contact Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call us or contact us online to get started.