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Washington DC Wrongful Death FAQs

Q: What does wrongful death mean?

A: A wrongful death suit is filed as a consequence of an injury inflicted on a person which resulted in his or her death, and the effect of loss that the death caused for the lives of the people who depended on him for support, both in financial and emotional aspects. Wrongful death typically occurs when there is a negligent situation, not when the defendant has intended to kill the spouse or other relative of the plaintiff(s). The idea behind a wrongful death lawsuit is that the wrongful death, in addition to injuring the person who died, also hurt people who depended upon the deceased for financial or emotional support. The wrongful act may be a negligent or careless act such as careless driving, or a reckless act, or an intentional act such as a deliberate murder. Almost every state has enacted a statute permitting a lawsuit to be brought by the relatives of a person who died as a result of a wrongful act.

Q: When does a wrongful death happen?

A: A wrongful death takes place when a person is killed because of the negligence or misconduct of another individual, company or entity. An action for wrongful death belongs to the decedent’s immediate family members. Usually these cases are brought by surviving spouses and children, and sometimes parents. A suit for wrongful death may only be brought by the personal representative of the decedent’s estate. Every state has a civil “wrongful death statute,” or set of statutes, which establish the procedures for bringing wrongful death actions. Actions for personal injury, conscious pain and suffering, or expenses incurred prior to the decedent’s death are also brought by the personal representative. The damage awards from these actions belong to the estate and may pass to different parties as directed by the decedent’s will. Not all families set up an estate after the loss of a loved one. We recognize this. Ms. Bertram can help you set up the Estate if we decide the case has merit case.

Q: Why are there wrongful death laws?

A: The purpose of a wrongful death law is to allow compensation for the family or representatives of the estate for their financial and emotional losses. You may be able to recover damages for lost wages and benefits, the value of household services, and the loss of companionship, comfort, and care that your family endured. The attorneys at Bertram & Amell will explore every avenue of recovery and fully advocate for you and your family so that you can begin the healing process and try to balance this terrible loss.

Q: What is the difference between a civil case and a criminal case against someone who caused a death?

A: A criminal case can only be brought by the government or state. On the other hand, civil cases are brought in the name of individuals, not in the name of the state. In a criminal case, the prosecutor makes a case against the person accused of a crime, seeking prison time or another punishment. A civil case can be filed by anyone whose private rights or civil rights have allegedly been violated by another party. When a private party files a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, the party is seeking monetary damages, compensation for the loss suffered. A civil trial for wrongful death, therefore, is very different from a criminal trial for murder or manslaughter. Civil lawsuits for wrongful death are tried for money damages to balance the harms, not to put the defendant in prison. The burden of proof in criminal and civil cases is different. The prosecutor in a criminal case must meet a higher standard of proof than in a civil case. In criminal cases, the standard is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” In civil cases, the standard of proof is “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which essentially means “more likely than not,” or put another way, proof by 51% or more.

Q: What is a survival law or survival statute?

A: A survival statute allows the estate of an injured person to be compensated for that individual’s losses. Because the injured party has passed away, the survivors or beneficiaries pursue the law suit on the behalf of the deceased or the estate of the deceased. We recognize that not all families set up estates after the death of a family member. The attorneys at Bertram & Amell can help with that process if the firm decides the case has merit.

Q: Who can sue for wrongful death?

A: The victim’s survivors are entitled to sue for monetary damages as a result of the improper conduct. The survivors who can file wrongful death usually must be appointed “representative” of the deceased’s estate. This is usually the victim’s spouse, children or parents. We recognize that not all families set up estates after the death of a family member. The lawyers at Bertram & Amell can help with that process if the firm decides the case has merit.

Q: What if a person dies before bringing a personal injury lawsuit?

A: If the person dies of the injuries that would have been the subject of the lawsuit, then the representative or heirs the lawsuit is converted into a wrongful death/survival act lawsuit; depending on the state, they may include the personal injury lawsuit, too. If the person who was injured dies of other causes, then the representative or heirs usually can file the personal injury lawsuit on behalf of the person’s estate. Each state treats the situation according to its own laws.

Q: Can a plaintiff sue for the pain and suffering of the decedent in a wrongful death lawsuit?

A: While a wrongful death award compensates the survivor, a pain and suffering award normally compensates the person who experienced the pain and suffering. Some states allow pain and suffering to be included in a wrongful death lawsuit; others do not. The pain and suffering must have been due to the injuries that eventually caused death, and the person who died must have been conscious enough to actually experience the pain and suffering.

Q: Can I bring a wrongful death action based on the death of a child or an elderly person?

A: Yes. The calculation of damages, however, may be different than if a parent who supported a family had passed away. It is likely focus on the non-monetary contributions or the services that the deceased provided to the family.

Q: How much is a wrongful death claim worth?

A: Determining how much the death of a loved one is worth is a critical aspect of any wrongful death claim. It is also the most difficult part of the claims to generalize. The amount depends on your very particular circumstances. The attorneys at Bertram & Amell will be objective about your case and will not make a rash decision. Where you may be tempted, for instance, to go for a quick payout, we may counsel you that it is in your best interests to wait for a more appropriate offer. We are also used to dealing with insurance companies, and will not be confused by their tactics or feel pressured to settle for an unsatisfactory amount. At Bertram & Amell, we work hard to reach full and fair settlements for our clients, as early in the litigation process as possible. If a trial becomes necessary, we can zealously represent you in court and work toward achieving the best possible jury verdict in your favor. In assessing the value of your claim, we will consider everything you have suffered as a result of the death of a loved one.

If you have question or want more information please call 202-803-5800 or email us to learn more.

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