A wrongful death claim can potentially stem from a fatality that occurs as a result of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing. Wrongful death lawsuits are filed in civil courts and seek compensation for the survivors’ losses such as medical expenses and funeral costs, lost future income and losing the love and companionship of a family member. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about wrongful death claims answered.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Rhode Island General Laws Section 10-7-1 defines a “wrongful death” as one that is caused by the “wrongful act, neglect or default of another.” The party that causes a wrongful death may be an individual, an entity or a corporation. The act of neglect or wrongdoing that led to death must be the type of action that would support a personal injury claim had the person survived. In Rhode Island, a wrongful death lawsuit can be brought by survivors in civil court even if a criminal charge for homicide has been filed.
What is the difference between homicide/murder and wrongful death?
There are a number of differences between a murder case and a wrongful death case. While wrongful death is a civil matter, homicide is a criminal matter. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed by the victim’s survivors. A homicide case is initiated not by the victim’s family, but the state, which is the prosecution in a criminal case. In a criminal case, the prosecution has the burden of proof, which means they must prove that the defendant is guilty of homicide beyond a reasonable doubt.
If the jury finds the defendant guilty, he or she will face penalties such as prison time and, in some cases, the death penalty. In a wrongful death case, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff (the victim’s survivors) must prove that the defendant’s negligence or wrongdoing caused the victim’s wrongful death. If the plaintiff can prove that the defendant is liable for the victim’s death, the court will order the defendant to pay the victim’s family monetary compensation for their losses.
Who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Rhode Island?
Rhode Island law states that the executor or administrator of the victim’s estate must bring the wrongful death claim to court. If the victim does not have an estate plan or if the administrator of the estate cannot or does not wish to serve, the court will appoint an administrator.
While the administrator is responsible for pursuing the wrongful death claim in court, the claim itself is actually established for the benefit of surviving family members. If there is no administrator, surviving family members may file a wrongful death claim. Examples of family members of survivors who can bring a wrongful death lawsuit include a spouse, a child (grown or minor), parents (if there are no heirs) or any person who was financially dependent on the decedent.
What damages can you seek in a Rhode Island wrongful death lawsuit?
Damages in a Rhode Island wrongful death case are intended to compensate the estate and the surviving family members for several types of losses that may arise as the result of a wrongful death. It is important to remember that many families not only struggle emotionally as they grieve the loss of a loved one but also financially because they have likely lost a main source of income. Damages available in the wrongful death case often include:
Medical expenses: This includes all types of medical expenses the decedent may have incurred prior to his or her death, including emergency transportation, hospitalization, surgery, medication, medical equipment, etc.
Funeral and burial expenses: These are some of the biggest and most unexpected costs families face in the aftermath of a tragedy, which could run into several thousand dollars.
Lost wages and benefits: This includes the value of wages and benefits the decedent would reasonably have been expected to earn had he or she lived. Benefits include health insurance, retirement benefits, stock options, etc.
Victim’s pain and suffering: In order to recover compensation for pain and suffering in a wrongful death claim in Rhode Island, the plaintiff must establish that the decedent did not die instantaneously but experienced conscious pain and suffering prior to his or her death.
Loss of care and companionship: This refers to the loss of love, care, companionship and guidance the decedent provided to surviving family members.
Punitive damages: It is important to understand that punitive damages are not meant to compensate the victim’s family members but to punish the defendant for egregious behavior that led to the decedent’s death. For example, if the manufacturer of a defective product knew about the danger the product posed to consumers but still continued selling it, the manufacturer could face punitive damages for a death caused by such a product.
Why do I need an experienced Rhode Island wrongful death lawyer on my side?
Rhode Island law states that wrongful death claims must be filed within three years of the decedent’s death. But, if the occurrence of the wrongful act that caused the death could not be discovered on the date of the death, the claim may be filed within three years of the date on which the act was discovered. If you fail to meet this deadline, you may not be able to file a wrongful death claim.
An experienced Rhode Island Wrongful Death Lawyer will be able to remain on your side throughout the process and make sure that your legal rights are protected and help ensure that the at-fault parties are held accountable. Call our office at 1-800-992-6878, or fill out an online contact form for a free (no obligation) case evaluation.