Losing a loved one is never an easy experience, and in some fundamental ways, life never returns to the same level of normalcy previously enjoyed. These losses are even harder to bear when they did not have to happen, and only occurred because someone else was negligent. When negligence leads to the injury of a third party, the typical avenue to regain some amount of equilibrium is to file a personal injury lawsuit and ask for compensation. When the negligent injury proves fatal, the claim is referred to as a wrongful death claim, and the law allows certain individuals to seek recovery on behalf of the deceased. Unfortunately, people die every day due to a variety of accidents, and family members are left with high medical bills and the financial and emotional repercussions of not having that person around. A discussion of the bases that may be used in wrongful death claims, and the types of damages that may be recovered, will follow below.
What Is Wrongful Death?
As noted above, wrongful death claims are used when misconduct of a person or business cause the death of another person, and serves as a stand-in for the legal claim the deceased would have had. The deceased’s estate, as represented by the executor or personal representative, is the only person or entity authorized to file these actions, and these cases are intended to provide the deceased’s beneficiaries compensation for the loss. Massachusetts law permits wrongful death suits for the following legal claims:
- Negligence, i.e., personal injury;
- Willful, wanton or reckless acts;
- Common carriers that engage in negligent or reckless acts; and
- Breach of warranty claims.
When Are These Claims Prohibited?
While the law mentioned above outlines the claims an estate is generally allowed to assert against a negligent or reckless party, there are limitations that block wrongful death suits in certain situations, specifically:
- Employers for employee deaths on the job;
- Railroad accidents when the deceased was on or near the tracks; and
- Streetcar companies when the accident happened while the deceased was on or near the tracks.
Damages in wrongful death cases are intended to both compensate the surviving family members for the loss of companionship, income, and care, which may be accompanied by personal injury claims for the pain and suffering and/or disability the deceased experienced between the time of the accident and the moment of death. For the damages directly assigned to the estate, the following compensation is available:
- The value of the income the deceased could be reasonably expected to have earned in his/her lifetime;
- The loss of family members of the care, guidance, counsel, advice, and companionship the deceased could have offered; and
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses.
Further, in cases of reckless and malicious conduct and gross negligence, punitive damages may be available. This type of compensation is meant to punish the wrongdoer and not compensate the family. The minimum amount of punitive damages that may be awarded is $5,000, though it can be much higher depending upon the evidence.
Time Limit to File a Claim
Importantly, just like other civil claims for wrongdoing, a time limit exists on how long the estate may institute legal action. In Massachusetts, the executor or personal representative has three years from the date of death or the time the executor or personal representative knew or should have a known a wrongful death claim was available. This date is crucial to recovery, and an attorney should be consulted to ensure this deadline is met.
Seek Legal Advice
Was your loved one the victim of someone else’s reckless or negligent behavior? Do not let this loss go without fighting for your rightful compensation. The New Bedford injury attorneys Goldberg & Weigand, LLP understand the pain you are experiencing, and can help loved one’s estate recover the money rightfully due. Contact them about scheduling a free consultation.
Attorney Peter M. Goldberg is the founder of and managing partner at Goldberg & Weigand, LLP, and has been in private practice since 1986. He takes pride in the fact he deals directly with his clients on a daily basis working to get their cases resolved to the fullest extent of their rights. Peter practices personal injury law and workers compensation law in Massachusetts.