Nothing feels worse than losing a loved one. The death of a beloved friend or family member causes immense amounts of grief and pain when it occurs naturally as a result of age or prolonged illness. But when death occurs as a result of an accident, workplace injury, or another person’s negligence, it also brings about legal questions, concerns, and doubts.
If there is good news to be had in a situation like this, it’s that you don’t have to navigate the legal system alone. To help you make sense of wrongful death claims, we’ve answered five of the most common questions we receive about these types of cases.
1. What Is a “Wrongful Death?”
According to ORS 30.020 (http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/30.020), a wrongful death is one “caused by the wrongful act or omission of another.” In most cases, wrongful deaths are the direct result of another party’s negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior. In other words, the same actions that support personal injury claims also support wrongful death claims.
2. Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Because the person directly involved with a wrongful death claim would be unable to file a claim for themselves, another party must file the claim. In most Oregon wrongful death claims, immediate family members of the deceased file wrongful death claims. Immediate family members include:
However, other surviving relatives of the deceased can also file a claim. Appropriate surviving relatives include:
3. Is There a Time Limit to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Whether you’re the wife, brother, or child of someone who died unnecessarily, Oregon law requires you to file a wrongful death claim within a set amount of time. In order to bring your claim to court, you must file within three years of the date of the original injury, not the date of death.
So, for example, if your loved one suffered injuries at work but didn’t die from said injuries until three months later, you’d have to file within three years of the date of the injuries. Failure to file within this time frame could destroy your case.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. The time frame to file a wrongful death claim can drop to as little as 180 days depending on the cause of death. For example, if alcohol, product defects, or a public entity contributed to the wrongful death, you have significantly less than three years to file a wrongful death claim.
If you’re considering filing a wrongful death claim, it’s best to do so as soon as possible after the death occurred.
4. What Do Wrongful Death Claims Accomplish?
Because death brings about so much heartache, you may wonder if filing a lawsuit is even worth it. After all, you don’t want to cause yourself and your family even more stress and pain. The good news is wrongful death suits can help you and your family in several ways.
Wrongful death claims seek to:
- Compensate family members for costs associated, both directly and indirectly, with medical costs and funeral expenses.
- Many families also receive compensation for loss of future earnings, allowing them to support themselves in the absence of a breadwinner.
- Recoup any non-monetary damages the family incurs. These damages could include emotional damages and loss of companionship.
Punish parties responsible for the wrongful death, especially if their actions were malicious. Because wrongful death suits are civil suits, courts often punish liable parties via fines rather than jail time. Restitution is beneficial in two ways. First, it provides extra comfort and peace of mind. Second, it discourages similar behavior and tragic deaths.
5. How Do Courts Distribute a Wrongful Death Settlement?
After a wrongful death settlement, many Oregon residents wonder how to appropriately divvy up the money awarded in the settlement. The Oregon judicial system actually has several procedures to allocate the appropriate amount of money to various surviving parties.
First, a judge will consider the deceased person’s will, if they had one. If the deceased did not leave a will, a judge will consider testimony from all surviving parties. Then, he or she will allocate money to various claimants based on relationship to the deceased, damages suffered, and various state laws.
Regardless of the testimonies, however, Oregon judges tend to distribute wrongful death settlements in the following manner:
- Parties who incurred expenses or fees associated with the lawsuit, prosecution, or enforcement of the claim will receive reimbursement first.
- Parties responsible for paying medical, funeral, and burial expenses receive reimbursement next.
- Surviving parties with legal claim to the settlement receive the remaining damages. This is where judges consider testimonies, familial relationships, and emotional damages most.
Remember-you don’t have to go it alone after the wrongful death of a loved one. Although the last thing you’ll want to do after a loved one’s death is call a lawyer and discuss lawsuit options, doing so can offer some much-needed peace of mind.