What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims arise when there is a personal injury that has resulted in death and a person or corporation is responsible.

The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close family members under Michigan’s Wrongful Death Act,  MCL § 600.2922.  These can be complex cases involving many factors, which makes hiring a Michigan wrongful death lawyer crucial.

Do I Have a Claim for Wrongful Death?

Since a wrongful death lawsuit cannot be brought by the person who is deceased, the case must be filed by someone else.

The personal representative of the estate of a deceased person may bring the claim, according to the Michigan Wrongful Death Act. The probate court in the location where the decedent lived or held property must approve the personal representative.

If there is a settlement, the probate court must approve the distribution of the funds. The estate will be reimbursed for hospital, medical, funeral, and burial expenses. All other damages will be distributed to loved ones.

The individuals who may receive a portion of the settlement under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act include:

  • The deceased’s spouse;
  • Parents;
  • Descendents;
  • Parents;
  • Grandparents;
  • Siblings;
  • Children of the deceased’s spouse; and,
  • Anyone to whom the decedent identified in their will.

If the decedent had no spouse, parents, grandparents, descendants, or siblings, then the next of kin in line to inherit under Michigan law may receive damages.

A wrongful death attorney can help determine who may be entitled to share damages and  provide adequate notice to all interested parties.

What Damages are Available for a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death damages should compensate family members for their loss. Close relatives can seek damages for:

  • Loss of financial support;
  • Loss of society or companionship; and,
  • Loss of consortium.

Additionally, unlike many states, Michigan law permits wrongful death plaintiffs to recover for injuries sustained by the deceased.

The law allows the court to award damages for many of the same things a personal injury victim could recover, such as:

  • Hospital and medical expenses;
  • Lost earnings following the accident;
  • Lost future earnings that the deceased could have been expected to earn over their lifetime; and,
  • Conscious pain and suffering before death.

Damages are calculated for  the decedent’s entire life expectancy. Frequently, economic experts are consulted to help calculate damages and account for inflation and future tax calculations.

The financial recovery for a wrongful death claim can be very high depending on the circumstances of the case, such as the earning potential, age, education of the deceased, and loss of love and companionship.

Types of Wrongful Death Claims

Like other catastrophic injury cases, wrongful death claims can fall into several categories, such as:

  • Car accidents;
  • Product liability;
  • Premises liability;
  • Medical malpractice;
  • Pedestrian accidents;
  • Workplace accidents;
  • Nursing home negligence;
  • Birth injuries;
  • Fires and explosions;
  • Truck accidents;
  • Food poisoning and allergic reactions;
  • Drowning;
  • Violations of civil rights, such as police brutality or inmate neglect; and,
  • Manslaughter or murder.

A compassionate and experienced attorney can navigate these issues on your behalf

Wrongful Death After a Car Accident

The elements of a wrongful death claim arising out of a car accident are similar to other automobile accident cases. The personal representative must demonstrate negligence by showing that:

  1. Another driver had a duty to drive cautiously and avoid injury to others;
  2. The driver breached that duty by, for example, driving recklessly;
  3. The driver’s breach of duty resulted in death; and,
  4. The decedent, their estate, or their loved ones suffered damages.

If wrongful death results from another type of accident, the elements will be similar. If your wrongful death lawyer proves these elements, you may recover financial compensation to offset your loss.

Wrongful Death Caused by Criminal Acts

A claim for wrongful death is a civil action. A criminal case is a separate process. But when a wrongful death is caused by a criminal act, the government may also bring a criminal action against the responsible person.

A criminal case is started by the state or federal government against one or more individuals for breaking the law. Penalties after conviction may include jail or prison. However, the government’s filing of criminal charges does not prevent a civil case from moving forward.

Nor would it preclude a civil action from being filed if the government chooses not to bring criminal charges. The legal standards for a civil wrongful death claim differ from those in a criminal case. So a wrongful death lawsuit case can be successful even when a criminal case was not.

A famous example is the O.J. Simpson case. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murder, but the families of the victims still prevailed in a wrongful death suit against him with a $33.5 million dollar verdict.

Civil Rights Wrongful Death Claims

Unfortunately, sometimes government actors or employees can act wrongfully or negligently, resulting in the death of an individual. Police may cause the death of someone while trying to apprehend a suspect or while an individual is in custody.

These cases present particular legal hurdles because the government often claims it has immunity from lawsuits. However, in some circumstances governmental immunity can be overcome and government actors can be held accountable. Experience in these cases and familiarity with immunity are crucial.

These cases are also factually complex because government actors owe different duties than ordinary citizens. Establishing these duties, and demonstrating a breach of these duties in court, requires a dedicated and experienced attorney.

Why Should I Hire a Wrongful Death Attorney?

The legal framework for wrongful death cases is particularly complicated. The stakes are higher, so insurance companies fight harder.

It can be emotional and overwhelming to think about navigating the legal system following the loss of a family member.  But it is essential to meet with an attorney to explore your options for holding the at-fault parties accountable. 

If you have lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligence, contact Garrison Law, PC,  today for a complimentary consultation.. We will assess your claim and make every effort to help you through this difficult time.