Wrongful death lawsuits have received a significant amount of media attention over the past two months.
First, following her mother’s death in September, Melissa Rivers confirmed to E! Online that she plans to open a claim against the New York endoscopy clinic where Joan Rivers experienced cardiac arrest.
Then, closer to home, families of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago decided to file individual claims against the insurance company underwriting the policy on Nancy Lanza’s home.
Yet even with these seemingly-dissimilar instances, one factor remains: Filing a wrongful death lawsuit comes with multiple complications.
Although spanning medical malpractice, vehicle accidents, slips and falls, product liability, and other personal injury fields, a wrongful death claim is filed as a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff pursues compensation rather than criminal action and needs to have suffered a financial hit directly associated with the victim’s death. As well, his or her death must be the result of the defendant’s negligence or misconduct, which is often intentional.
Rules vary by state, but four factors a plaintiff may maneuver are:
1. Statute of Limitations
The single factor determining whether a plaintiff can file is the statute of limitations, or the maximum time period following the incident in which the case can go to court.
Yet, several factors make this window ambiguous. For one, the period varies with state, although the amount typically ranges from one to three years. In Connecticut, wrongful death cases have a two-year limit.
Then, there’s the fact that certain states consider this period to start at different times: when the victim dies or when the cause of death is determined. However, the latter is not always clearly defined. In the event a car accident severely injures a victim, and he or she succumbs to the condition, the statute of limitations may begin, depending upon state, when the collision occurred.
2. Proving a Duty to the Victim and Carelessness
A case is built on the notion that the defendant had an obligation to behave in a certain manner to the victim, intentionally or carelessly defied this duty, and the behavior resulted in death.
This, too, varies with situation. Doctors, for instance, are required to follow a standard of care toward their patients, while motorists are legally obligated to stay within the rules of the road. Manufacturers putting a defective product on the market not only defy consumers’ trusts but also deliberately put them in harm’s way.
The process may become extensive and expensive. Lawyers may speak with witnesses and experts and do research, while the plaintiff often has to compile documentation.
3. Who Can Sue?
Another factor varying by state, filing is often restricted to surviving spouses or children. However, because of the monetary damage component, certain states, including Connecticut, extend this distinction to grandparents, other relatives, or other dependants.
In Connecticut, if the plaintiff is under 18, the court appoints a guardian to act in his or her best interest. Or, a fiduciary, specified in the victim’s will, may represent the victim’s estate.
4. Government Immunity
Immunity granted to government organizations may serve as a significant roadblock in pursuing your case. Plaintiffs may be barred from filing against local, state, and federal organizations, unless gross negligence or misconduct can be proven. As an example, if a police officer drives drunk, hits another vehicle, and kills the driver, the surviving family members may be able to start a wrongful death claim against the local or state police department.
Trantolo & Trantolo’s lawyers handle wrongful death cases across all fields listed above. If you have a claim and are within the two-year statute of limitations, contact one of our Connecticut locations to speak with an attorney.