There are different situations where a person can die due to another person’s negligence. This might happen at the workplace, during a medical procedure, or in a car accident. The decedents' loved one should recover all the damages incurred from the death of their loved one due to another person's negligence. This kind of claim is referred to as a wrongful death claim.
Filing a wrongful death claim is complicated and needs a personal injury attorney’s help to ensure that every legal process is handled accordingly. At the Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we offer expert legal services to clients looking to file wrongful death claims and fighting for compensation.
How Wrongful Death is Defined in Nevada
Under NRS 41.085, surviving family members of a victim who died or was killed due to another person's wrongdoing can bring a claim for money damages on behalf of the victim's estate. Under this statute, a wrongful death claim is considered a civil action but is not a criminal act. Therefore, the suspect will not face imprisonment or jailing but will be required to compensate for the monetary losses they have caused on the decedent's estate.
Wrongful death civil actions can arise from different circumstances in Nevada. Common examples of these circumstances include:
- Medical malpractice
- Car accidents
- Death in a supervised activity
- Product liability
- Exposure to hazardous substances and condition in a workplace
- Criminal behaviors
A wrongful death claim is entirely regulated by law under NRS 41.085. This means that there are specific aspects that you should prove to hold the defendant liable for the wrongful death. These aspects are as follows:
- A person died (commonly referred to as decedent)
- The death resulted from another person's recklessness or wrongful act
- The plaintiff is a personal representative or heir of the deceased
- The plaintiff incurred damages as a result of the decedent's death
Different Scenarios that Lead to Wrongful Death Claims
As stated above, several circumstances can lead to a wrongful death claim. These scenarios are entirely different, but under Nevada laws, they should be referred to as wrongful death claims as long as the victim succumbed to another person's wrongful actions or negligence. Let's have a closer look at these scenarios.
Wrongful Death in Medical Malpractice
One of the most heartbreaking experiences is losing a loved one out of medical malpractice. Such situations might be caused by medical professionals such as surgeons, doctors, anesthesiologists, or nurses. The circumstances might also be caused by medical facilities such as a surgical center, hospital, or doctor's office.
People usually put their trust in medical professionals and medical facilities. Therefore, it is harrowing when such faith is broken with medical malpractice leading to the death of a loved one. Family members expect answers from such situations and compensation for the losses incurred.
When making a wrongful death claim in medical malpractice, you need to establish the at-fault party and establish the negligence or wrongful act that led to the death. You must also demonstrate a causal connection between the negligence and cause of death. Some of the medical malpractices that can lead to wrongful death claim include:
- Surgical errors
- Failure to diagnose
- Failure to inform patients about the known risk of a particular medical procedure
- Improper treatment
- Medication mistakes
Your personal injury attorney's mandate is to establish the exact cause of your loved one's demise to create a suitable ground to claim compensation from the at-fault party.
Wrongful Death Claim in Car Accidents
Once you have lost your loved one in a fatal car accident, you can seek compensation from the at-fault party. In Nevada, the family of the deceased can file a wrongful death claim on:
- The decedent's insurance company if the at-fault party is underinsured or uninsured
- The at-fault driver's insurer
- The at-fault driver through a lawsuit
While filing a wrongful death claim, you need to prove several aspects to make the case valid enough. This means that you should understand negligence and liability, which are the basis of a compensation claim or lawsuit. In this case, you will be proving that your loved one died due to something wrong or the failure of another person.
To understand how negligence and liability works, your attorney and insurer should help you understand the following terms.
- Duty of Care – This means that the at-fault driver should avoid causing harm to other people. Therefore, they should avoid all aspects that cause a car accident
- Negligence – Negligence is a legal definition of any act that proves that the at-fault party failed to adhere to their duty of care. For instance, if a driver drives a vehicle while intoxicated, this indicates an act of negligence
- Liability – Liability is a term that defines legal responsibility. The at-fault driver is liable for a car accident if his or her negligence actions are the cause of the car accident involving your loved one
More than one party can be held liable in a wrongful death claim. Such parties include:
- The individual who was driving the vehicle that caused the accident
- An individual such as a parent who served alcohol to a minor
- A corporation that manufactured a defective car part that caused the death
- A business that has employed the driver that caused the accident
- A government agency such as the state highway department that failed to maintain their roads hence the accident
Wrongful Death in a Truck Accident
While truck accidents are forms of car accidents, they are different from others due to the difference in weight and size of the vehicle in question. Truck accidents are different since when a truck hits a smaller car, there are high chances of passengers or occupants of the smaller vehicle to incur serious injuries or death.
You need to acknowledge the at-fault party before you file a wrongful death claim after a truck accident. In most cases, the truck driver is always the at-fault party, but there are other parties that you can hold liable for the death. This includes:
- The trucking company
- The truck service company
- The truck manufacturer, if the accident was a result of a defective part
- Other drivers using the road if they distracted the trucker, leading to the truck accident
Wrongful Death in a Motorcycle Accident
Motorcycles are different from cars. They do not offer the kind of protection that a vehicle guarantees to its operator. You only have a helmet and leather riding suit to protect you once you are involved in an accident. Luckily, survivors of a person who loses his life in a motorcycle can seek compensation for the wrongful death’s damages.
A wrongful death claim in a motorcycle accident is not different from a car or truck accident. You must establish that the alleged at-fault party acted negligently hence the accident. Some of the factors that can make a motorist cause a motorcycle accident include:
- Distracted driving
- Failing to yield
- Drunk driving
- Failure to observe traffic rules
Once you have established the cause of the motorcycle accident, you need to prove that the at-fault party's negligence led to your loved one’s death.
Wrongful Death in Workplaces
In many cases, employees cannot sue their employees for the injuries incurred in their workplaces since their worker's compensation insurance covers them. However, survivors of a worker who dies in a workplace can file a wrongful death suit if their loved one loses their life on the job. The surviving family members should prove the following when filing a wrongful death suit when their loved one dies while working:
- That the decedent died due to the negligence of someone else
- That they suffered damages or losses due to the demise of their loved ones. This includes the loss of support or other damages that results from the death of a family's breadwinner
Wrongful Death due to Defective Products
No one expects to suffer any injuries or die after using a particular product. Unfortunately, some consumers can end up being injured or dying once they rely on defective products. Wrongful death can occur due to the following:
- Due to a defective auto part such as brakes, malfunctioning tires and other components
- Consumer product such as kitchen appliances, electronic appliances
- Medical devices such as defibrillators
- Children products such as clothing, toys, and high chairs
When filing a wrongful death, there are three classes of defects that would help a claimant seek compensation for the damages incurred from the wrongful death. This includes:
- Design Defects: This kind of defect is inherent in the design of the product in question. While making a claim based on design defects, you need to prove that the company in question could have availed a safer design alternative than the product that they released
- Manufacturing Defects: This kind of defect occurs during the assembly or manufacture of the product in question. While a claimant is making a wrongful death claim based on manufacturing defect, he or she should imply that the product of the same design could not have failed, but the one with the manufacturing defect led to the death
- Marketing Defects: While making a wrongful death claim based on a particular product's marketing defects, you need to establish that the marketer did not give proper information on how to use the product that resulted in the fatal accident safely
Different parties can be held accountable for wrongful death due to a defective product. This depends on whether the defect was realized at the designing, manufacturing, or marketing of the product. Anybody along the supply chain becomes theoretically liable for the wrongful death. This includes the product manufacturer, manufacturer of a particular part of the product, assembly plant, wholesaler, and retailer.
A wrongful death claim due to a defective product can be filed in three different ways. This depends on the nature of the defect. Three theories are used while bringing a wrongful death claim based on a defective product. These theories include strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.
Under the strict liability theory, defendants can hold the at-fault party liable for the defective product regardless of whether they knew or did not know about the defective product. If the product had an unsafe design, a manufacturer would be held liable despite their knowledge or ignorance of an alternative model that would be safe.
Under the negligence theory, the at-fault party would be held liable for wrongful death if they were proven to have acted in a way that a reasonable party would have. For instance, if the company used a low-grade part to save money, leading to the fatal accident, this would establish that the manufacturer acted negligently, leading to the death of your loved one.
Finally, under the breach of warranty theory, the at-fault party can be held liable for a defective product if it misrepresented a product to its consumer. For instance, if the company markets or labels a product in a particular way, but the consumer dies while using it as advertised, this would hold the at-fault party responsible for the wrongful death.
Eligibility for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Filing a wrongful death lawsuit is restricted to specific parties. Under Nevada laws, wrongful death actions are filed by the estate of the deceased victim and his or her surviving family.
If the victim was a married person, the surviving spouse and children become eligible for the filing. However, if the victim was childless or unmarried, the eligibility will be determined based on seniority. This means that the parents become first in priority, then the siblings, and finally, closest relatives who are not the victim's parent or sibling.
Please note that Under NRS 41.085, several people are not eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit even after being named beneficiaries by the victim. This includes finances, foster children, unadopted stepchildren, and close friends.
Potential Defendants and Defenses in a Wrongful Death Suit
The kind of defendant you will face in a wrongful death suit depends on the type of accident or situation that led to your loved ones' death. Some of the potential defendants include:
- A driver who kills another person accidentally while driving intoxicated or recklessly
- A doctor who negligently kills a patient by administering a substandard medical care
- A person who intentionally stab or shoot another person
- A hotel that fails to monitor its carbon monoxide levels hence the death of one of their guest
- A parent who does not monitor his child while playing with a gun that accidentally goes off and kills another person
A third party, such as an avenue that sells alcohol to minors, can be held liable if the minor ends up killing another person due to his or her intoxication.
Every defendant in a wrongful death suit is at a position of presenting a hard bargain when it comes to a wrongful death suit filed against them. It is recommendable to learn about the possible defenses that a defendant would give to make relevant decisions that would help you counter the defense strategies accordingly. Here is a detailed view of the viable arguments presented by potential defendants in a wrongful death suit.
For a wrongful death claim to be considered valid, there must be a connection between the defendant's conduct and the victim’s death. Therefore, if the claimants cannot demonstrate a link between the at-fault party and the actions that killed your loved one, they cannot hold the defendant liable for the wrongful death.
This defense is available if the defendant believes that he or she was there was an imminent loss of life or significant bodily injury, hence the action that led to the death of your loved one. It is not easy for a defendant to merely state that he or she was in imminent harm to cause the death of another person. However, if the circumstances surrounding the death can reasonably make the court believe that the self-defense action was necessary, the court will have no option but to dismiss the case.
The defendant might make an argument claiming that you assumed the risk of their actions, leading to your death. This defense is not usually used since it requires the decedent to have known and understood the danger, but proceeded to an action that led to his or her death.
Unlawful Act of the Defendant
If the decedent died while participating in an unlawful act, the beneficiaries would not recover any damages. The reasoning behind this is that society does not intend to reward criminal actions, hence the denial. For instance, if the decedent lost his or her life while robbing a bank, the beneficiaries cannot receive any monetary damages.
Nevada is a contributory negligence state. Therefore, the liability of a particular accident or wrongful death is spread proportionally among the liable parties. However, in Nevada, if the decedent's contributory negligence is more than the defendant, then his or her surviving family member cannot recover any damages.
Statute of Limitations
Under Nevada statutes of limitations, plaintiffs have two years to file a wrongful lawsuit. Therefore, if they submit the case after the two-year limit, the court might dismiss the case. It is recommendable to contact a personal injury attorney immediately after your loved demise to avoid failing to meet the required deadline.
Damages That You Can Win in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In Nevada, wrongful death suits are considered as the most severe civil claims. Therefore, there are chances of yielding higher settlements and jury awards compared to other cases. The estate of the decedent might recover the following damages in a wrongful death suit.
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Special damages, consisting of medical expenses or bills incurred by the deceased person before his or her death
- Compensatory damages that the decedent would have recovered before his or her death
- Punitive damages that would have been recovered before the death
Although compensatory damages are approximate losses made by the decedent's estate, they are meant to punish the defendants for their negligence actions that led to the death of your loved one. This would help avoid any action that would lead to a similar situation. In that case, heirs may be able to recover the following:
- Loss of financial support provided by the decedent
- Pain and suffering or disfigurement of the decedent
- Loss of consortium and companionship
- Grief or sorrow
While the court is determining how to award the decedent's survivors, several factors determine how much they can be granted. Here is a brief overview of the factors that can affect the valuation of a wrongful death award.
Current and Future Income
Courts can manage to estimate the current and future income-generating ability of a decedent. This is achieved by evaluating the decedent's current income, estimating future expenses, and predicting the career trajectory.
When someone has retired, he or she does have the same amount of life ahead. Therefore, you would not expect a retiring person to have a similar income-generating capacity compared to a thirty-year-old worker. In that case, a retiring person would attract a lesser award than a person in his or her thirties.
Marital and Parental Status
The marital and parental status of a decedent can provide clues about the marital companionship and parental guidance provided by the family member. Death brings a loss of these intangible relationships and should be compensated in a wrongful death suit.
The death of a breadwinner can render several services to his or her family. This includes childcare services, household services, maintenance, and other essential services. Therefore, the court will note the gravity of the services that have been rendered and compensate the surviving members accordingly.
Losing a loved one in a wrongful death is painful, especially when the decedent was a breadwinner to several beneficiaries. In that case, it is crucial to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault party to compensate for the losses incurred due to the death of your loved one.
At the Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we understand the struggles that loved ones of a wrongful death victim go through due to another person's negligence. Our aggressive injury attorneys will help you obtain the compensation you deserve after your loved one’s wrongful death. Please contact us today at 702-996-1224 for a free and comprehensive case evaluation.