What are your legal options when a loved one dies because of someone else's negligence?
A wrongful death lawsuit is an action brought against a defendant who caused a person's death through recklessness or negligence.
The rationale behind a wrongful death lawsuit is that certain surviving family members of the deceased should be able to recover damages for the loss of their loved one.
Wrongful death claims are more complicated than traditional negligence lawsuits for several reasons, including the fact that not every family member of the deceased is allowed to file a lawsuit.
Let's take a close look at wrongful death lawsuits in Indiana.
Difference between a wrongful death and survival lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit is sometimes confused with a survival lawsuit. The confusion is understandable, as both lawsuits are filed after someone dies as the result of a reckless or negligent act. However, the claims are different in some important ways:
- Wrongful death lawsuits are filed by the deceased's estate so that certain members of the deceased's family can recover damages associated with the loss of their loved one, such as lost financial support and emotional distress.
- Survival lawsuits are filed by the deceased's estate to recover damages sustained by the deceased while the deceased was still alive.
Let's look at an example that clarifies the difference between these 2 types of lawsuits:
Jim is driving his Tesla on South Clarizz Boulevard in Bloomington when the lithium-ion battery in his Tesla Roadster suddenly explodes. Jim suffers severe burns but is able to crawl free from the burning wreckage.
Jim is rushed to the hospital. After 2 days, he succumbs to his injuries. He leaves behind his husband, Christopher, and no other surviving family members.
In this example, Jim's husband could file a wrongful death lawsuit against the manufacturer of the Tesla. The wrongful death lawsuit would compensate Christopher for damages associated with the loss of Jim, including loss of companionship and loss of financial support.
Additionally, Jim's estate could file a survival lawsuit to recover the damages Jim suffered while he was still alive, including the medical expenses from his 2 days in the hospital. Any damages recovered would go to Jim's estate and be distributed according to his will.
Who can file a wrongful death claim in Indiana?
In Indiana, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by the personal representative of the decedent's estate.
However, any damages that are recovered can be awarded to the following people:
- The surviving spouse
- Children of the deceased
- Other dependents of the deceased
What must be proven to recover damages in an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit?
When someone is killed as a result of a reckless or negligent act, the deceased's estate steps into the shoes of the deceased. As a result, the estate must prove liability the same way the deceased would have had to if they survived the negligent or reckless act.
For example, if the deceased was killed in a car accident, the estate would have to prove the elements of negligence.
Calculating damages in a wrongful death claim
In an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit, the jury or judge can award the following damages:
- Reasonable medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Damages for the loss of the deceased's love and companionship
As you can imagine, it's almost impossible to put a price tag on the loss of love and companionship. In an effort to do so, judges and juries will often hear testimony from loved one's about the closeness of their relationship with the deceased. In an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit, the judge or jury can NOT award the following damages:
- Punitive damages
- Damages awarded for a person's grief
If more than 1 person is eligible to receive damages, the judge or jury will decide how to split up the total damages awarded.
In most cases, wrongful death damages aren't taxable. Additionally, wrongful death damages aren't subject to the debts of the deceased. In other words, if the deceased died with debts, the debt collectors couldn't collect money from the damage award.
Unfortunately, wrongful death damages in Indiana are capped at $300,000.
How do I file a wrongful death claim in Indiana?
A wrongful death case will be filed in the same manner as the deceased would have filed their lawsuit had they survived.
An experienced attorney will take care of the details, but, in brief, the personal representative of the deceased's estate will have to file the lawsuit in the appropriate court and give proper notice of the lawsuit to the party that is being sued. From there, the party you're suing will have an opportunity to respond and the court will set the dates for hearing and discovery deadlines.
How soon after the death does a wrongful death case have to be filed?
However, there are a few exceptions to the 2-year statute of limitations, and for this reason, it's always best to meet with an experienced attorney as soon as possible to avoid having your claim dismissed.
Though nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one, a wrongful death claim can help ease the burden by providing you with financial relief. Use our free online directory to locate an experienced attorney in your area.
Wrongful death lawsuits are particularly difficult because in the face of such a tragedy, families and loved ones must pick up the pieces of their life despite their grief and soldier on through the legal system, meeting each deadline and acting like it's any other lawsuit. These are usually filed by husbands, wives, children, parents and siblings of the deceased with the help of a legal representative. Read more