Losing a family member is never easy; it is a painful experience. When you suspect or know that someone else's negligence or wrongful actions caused their death, it adds an extra layer of complexity to your grief. Beyond the sorrow, there is the need to seek compensation from those responsible through a wrongful death claim. This legal process can be intricate and emotionally draining.
However, you do not have to navigate this challenging journey alone. A wrongful death attorney can provide invaluable assistance. Moreover, at Dallas Horton & Associates, our team can take on a substantial portion of the legal burdens, allowing you the space to grieve your loved one. We will be your steadfast companions throughout this ordeal in Las Vegas, so contact us and schedule a consultation.
The Legal Definition of Wrongful Death in Nevada
Wrongful death occurs when an individual loses their life due to someone else's negligence. However, what sets wrongful death apart in the justice system is that it does not hinge on the perpetrator's intent.
In Nevada, wrongful death is punished by Nevada Revised Statutes (N.R.S.) 41.085, which outlines the framework for these cases. The essence of this legal concept is that the defendant could be liable for wrongful death if they unlawfully caused your loved one’s death.
Wrongful death can take various forms, including:
- Intentional acts. If the defendant intentionally caused the death of your loved one, it falls under the purview of wrongful death.
- Recklessness. Even if the act leading to death was reckless, meaning the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial risk, it could constitute wrongful death.
- Negligence. Wrongful death claims can also arise from acts of negligence, where the defendant’s failure to exercise reasonable care leads to your loved one's death.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The court must find that the following key "elements" are true before establishing liability in a wrongful death case:
- The existence of a deceased person. They are referred to as the "decedent."
- The decedent's death directly resulted from the defendant’s wrongful act, negligence, or recklessness.
- The plaintiff, the person bringing the lawsuit, is an heir or the personal representative of the decedent.
- You have suffered monetary damages as a result of the death.
One pivotal distinction between wrongful death cases and criminal proceedings is the nature of the consequences for the defendant. In criminal cases, the defendant could face imprisonment or probation if found guilty. In a wrongful death suit, however, the primary outcome is the potential obligation to pay monetary damages to you.
Who Can Bring A Wrongful Lawsuit In California?
Determining who has the right to initiate legal action in a wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada is paramount. One key entity with standing is the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. A representative is often appointed through legal processes such as probate. They act on behalf of the deceased's estate, including pursuing legal action like a wrongful death lawsuit.
Intestate heirs or surviving family members of the deceased can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. The specific heirs who can bring a wrongful death action depend on the marital status and family structure of the deceased, including:
- If the victim was married, their surviving spouse and children are typically the heirs.
- In cases involving unmarried and childless victims, the hierarchy of eligible heirs includes:
- Parents of the deceased.
- Siblings of the deceased.
- The closest surviving family member who is not a parent or sibling.
There are restrictions regarding who can bring forth wrongful death claims in Nevada. Notably, individuals such as significant others, fiancées, and close friends, even if they are named as beneficiaries in the victim's will, are generally ineligible to pursue NRS 41.085 claims.
Who are the Potential Defendants in a Nevada Wrongful Death Case?
Essentially, any person, organization, or company responsible for causing another individual's death can be a defendant in an NRS 41.085 lawsuit in Nevada. Wrongful death cases can arise from various circumstances, including accidents, medical malpractice, criminal acts, or negligence.
There is a specific consideration when it comes to venues that serve alcohol. These establishments may not be held liable for the death of a victim aged 21 or older, even if the victim's intoxication contributed to their demise.
Defense Strategies in A Wrongful Death Case
When defendants in wrongful death cases are confronted with such lawsuits, they often employ various defense strategies to challenge the claims against them. Below are five common defense arguments that they may present:
The defendant may argue they were not responsible for the victim's death, asserting they were mistakenly identified as the wrongdoer. In their defense, the defendant could present evidence questioning the reliability of eyewitness accounts or forensic evidence. It could highlight inconsistencies in the testimony of witnesses or flaws in the investigation process.
Another defense strategy involves claiming that someone else falsely accused the defendant, shifting the blame away from themselves. False accusations can arise for various reasons, including personal vendettas, mistaken perceptions, or even the deliberate framing of an innocent party. The defense team's task is to unearth the truth and reveal the actual wrongdoer, thereby exonerating the defendant from the charges.
Lack of Contribution to the Death
The defendant might argue that, while they were present at the death scene, their actions did not contribute to the tragic outcome. This defense strategy establishes a crucial distinction between mere presence and culpability.
It explains that being near a wrongful death does not automatically make you responsible for it. The defense team may meticulously analyze the sequence of events, witnesses' testimonies, and forensic evidence to demonstrate that the defendant’s actions did not contribute to your loved one’s death.
In some cases, the defendant could assert that they acted in lawful self-defense when they caused the victim's death, emphasizing that their actions were justified. Lawful self-defense hinges on the fundamental principle that individuals have the right to defend themselves or others from imminent harm.
This defense strategy emphasizes the legality of the defendant’s response in the face of a perceived threat, highlighting the critical importance of the circumstances and the reasonableness of your actions. This defense must convince the judge and jury that the defendant’s actions met the legal criteria for self-defense to succeed.
Legal Release Agreement
The alleged suspect could present evidence of a legal release agreement signed by the victim. Legal release agreements outline the assumption of risks by one party, often in exchange for participating in a particular activity or event. They can specify relinquishing the right to sue for injuries or damages resulting from such activities.
Such agreements may absolve them of liability, especially in cases where the victim willingly assumed risks, such as by engaging in dangerous activities like skydiving or car racing. In a wrongful death case, a release agreement may be used to demonstrate that the victim willingly and knowingly assumed certain risks associated with their actions.
Statute of Limitations for Bringing a Wrongful Death Case
Time is of the essence when bringing wrongful death lawsuits in Nevada. As a plaintiff, you generally have only a two-year time limit from the date of the victim's death to bring a wrongful death case. If you delay the legal action beyond this two-year window, the defendant will almost certainly file a motion to dismiss the case. Such a motion is likely to succeed, resulting in the case being dismissed.
The time constraint shows the importance of prompt action after a wrongful death. You and other surviving family members should consult with a personal injury attorney immediately. Doing so gives the attorney time to compile essential evidence and build a strong case before the statute of limitations expires.
What Compensation Can I Win in a Wrongful Death Case?
One of the central aspects of any wrongful death lawsuit is the potential monetary compensation that may be awarded to you and other plaintiffs. When a victim's estate files a wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada, they may seek the following categories of financial compensation:
Special/ Economic Damages
These encompass medical bills and expenses that the deceased person incurred before their tragic passing. It reimburses the estate for any costs associated with medical treatment leading up to the fatal incident.
- Medical Expenses. Special damages often include medical bills related to the deceased person's injury or illness leading to their death. This can encompass hospitalization costs, surgeries, medication expenses, and other medical treatments.
- Funeral and Burial Costs. The expenses of organizing a funeral and burial for the deceased are typically included in special damages. This can encompass funeral service fees, casket, cemetery, and other related expenses.
- Loss of Financial Support. Special damages may account for the financial support the deceased would have provided their family members had they not passed away. This can include lost income, benefits, and financial contributions to the household.
- Loss of Services. If the deceased provided specific services or assistance to their family members, the cost of replacing those services (such as childcare, household chores, or caregiving) may be considered as special damages.
- Loss of Inheritance. In some cases, special damages may also involve calculating the loss of potential inheritance the surviving family members would have received from the deceased.
- Punitive Damages. In certain cases, punitive damages may also be pursued. Unlike compensatory damages, which aim to reimburse the estate for losses, punitive damages serve a different purpose. They are designed to punish the defendant for their actions and deter others from engaging in similar wrongful conduct.
"Non-economic damages" represent a significant component of the compensation the surviving family or beneficiaries seek. These damages encompass a broad range of losses that are not easily quantifiable in monetary terms and typically involve the emotional and psychological impact of the loss.
- Pain and Suffering. This category seeks to compensate the surviving family members for the emotional pain, suffering, and distress caused by losing their loved one. It can encompass the grief, sorrow, and mental anguish experienced due to the death.
- Loss of Companionship. Wrongful death claims may address the profound loss of companionship, society, and comfort the heirs have experienced due to the victim's untimely passing. This can encompass the emotional toll such a loss takes on the surviving family members. Non-economic damages may also account for the loss of companionship, care, guidance, and emotional support the deceased provided to their family members. This is particularly relevant in cases involving the death of a spouse or parent.
- Loss of Consortium. In cases where a spouse has passed away, the surviving spouse may be entitled to compensation for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that the deceased spouse provided.
- Grief and Sorrow. The emotional impact of losing a loved one cannot be underestimated. Heirs may pursue compensation for the grief and sorrow they have endured due to the wrongful death.
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life. This category acknowledges the loss of the enjoyment of life's pleasures and activities that the deceased would have otherwise shared with their family members.
- Mental Anguish and Distress. Non-economic damages can also account for the psychological impact of witnessing or being aware of the circumstances of the death, especially if it was particularly traumatic.
Calculating these damages involves a careful assessment of various factors. Courts consider age, earning capacity, life expectancy, and health. However, a pivotal consideration is the decedent's circumstances at their death. For instance, if an adult wage earner passes away, the major components of recovery include loss of income and loss of parental guidance, if applicable.
The potential monetary damages in wrongful death cases are multifaceted, considering the financial losses and emotional toll on surviving family members. These damages provide a degree of redress and financial support during a challenging time for those who have lost a loved one due to the actions or negligence of another.
Does Insurance Cover Wrongful Death?
Whether insurance can cover wrongful death cases is pertinent for those seeking compensation and accountability after losing a loved one. The answer to whether insurance covers wrongful death largely depends on the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policy.
While insurance can potentially provide coverage, there are important considerations to keep in mind:
- Policy Limits. Insurance policies typically limit the amount they will pay out in the event of a claim. These limits may not always align with the full extent of the damages sought in a wrongful death lawsuit. Therefore, the compensation available through insurance may fall short of what you seek.
- Multiple Claimants. In many wrongful death cases, multiple claimants, such as the decedent's estate and intestate heirs, may exist. When multiple parties seek compensation, the available insurance coverage may be divided among them, reducing the amount each claimant can receive.
- Policy Exclusions. Insurance policies often contain exclusions for certain types of wrongful death scenarios. For example, if the death resulted from intentional acts or criminal behavior on the part of the insured, the policy may not cover such claims. It's essential to carefully review the policy terms to understand these exclusions.
- Third-Party Liability. Sometimes, the liability for wrongful death may extend beyond the individual or entity covered by insurance. Third parties may also be held responsible for compensation if they are involved.
- Legal Representation. Securing insurance coverage in wrongful death cases can be a complex process. It often requires skilled negotiation and legal expertise to ensure that claimants receive the maximum compensation under the policy.
While insurance can provide a source of financial compensation in wrongful death cases, it is not always a straightforward process. The specific circumstances, policy terms, and other factors can significantly impact the extent of coverage available. Seeking legal counsel from an experienced personal injury attorney will help navigate the complexities of insurance coverage in wrongful death lawsuits.
What If There Was Medical Malpractice?
In the unfortunate scenario where a wrongful death is suspected to have resulted from medical malpractice, the legal landscape becomes even more challenging. Medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death are distinct from other wrongful death claims in several key ways:
- In a medical malpractice case, plaintiffs face the significant challenge of proving that the victim's death was not a natural progression of their illness or condition but a direct result of medical negligence. This requires a compelling demonstration that the healthcare provider's actions or omissions constituted malpractice.
- Nevada law places caps on the damages that can be awarded in medical malpractice cases. These caps may limit the financial compensation that can be pursued, even in cases involving wrongful death.
- Medical malpractice cases are inherently complex. They often involve in-depth medical knowledge and expert testimony to establish the link between the healthcare provider's actions and the patient's death. These complexities can extend the duration and intricacy of legal proceedings.
- Medical malpractice cases, including those involving wrongful death, are subject to specific statutes of limitations in Nevada. You must initiate legal action within these time frames to preserve your rights.
Navigating the complexities of a wrongful death case rooted in medical malpractice requires a deep understanding of medical and legal principles. Plaintiffs must be prepared to meet the higher burden of proof, contend with damages caps, and engage in a legal process that demands precision and expertise.
Should I Settle Or Go To Trial?
The pivotal decision of whether to settle or proceed to trial in a wrongful death lawsuit is a question that demands careful consideration. Settling a wrongful death case involves agreeing with the defendant or their insurance company to resolve the matter without going to trial. Below are some key considerations when contemplating a settlement:
- Settlement can bring a degree of closure to the legal proceedings. It allows the parties involved to reach a resolution more swiftly and avoid the prolonged trial process.
- In a settlement, the parties have more control over the outcome. They can negotiate terms and reach an agreement that they find acceptable.
- Settlement amounts are often predictable, and the compensation is guaranteed once the agreement is reached. This can provide a level of financial security for the plaintiff.
However, you want to approach settlement with a clear understanding of the compensation offered and whether it adequately addresses the damages incurred.
Opting for a trial means presenting the case before a judge or jury. Trials offer the potential for the highest compensation. Juries may award more substantial damages than what is offered in a settlement. The outcome is a matter of public record, meaning it can provide a sense of accountability and transparency.
Trials can be legally complex and protracted processes. They require a significant investment of time and resources. There is the possibility that the defendant may not be found liable for wrongful death, leading to no compensation for the plaintiff. Even if the defendant loses, they may appeal, prolonging the legal battle.
Can The Defendant Go To Prison?
Wrongful death lawsuits are civil proceedings, not criminal trials. In a civil case, the primary objective is to seek compensation for the plaintiff rather than punishment for the defendant. The defendant may be ordered to pay monetary damages to the plaintiff(s) if they are found liable for the death. These damages aim to provide financial redress to the victim's family and compensate them for their losses.
So, if the defendant is found liable in a civil lawsuit, they will not face imprisonment or probation as they would in a criminal case. Criminal charges related to the same incident as a wrongful death can run parallel to the civil lawsuit. However, these are entirely separate legal proceedings. In criminal cases, the focus is on whether the defendant is guilty of a crime, such as murder or manslaughter, beyond a reasonable doubt.
While it is not unusual for a civil suit to follow a related criminal trial, it is not a requirement. Although the victim's family may serve as important witnesses in the criminal case, they are not a party to the criminal proceedings. The parties in criminal cases are the defendant and the state.
Notably, the burden of proof in civil cases is lower than in criminal cases. In civil cases, plaintiffs must prove liability by a preponderance of the evidence, which roughly translates to "more likely than not." In contrast, in criminal cases, the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a much higher standard.
Find a Reputable Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Other people’s negligent acts sometimes lead to fatalities, causing immense suffering for your family. In such distressing times, you should seek compensation for your lost loved one. However, you want to anticipate resistance from the responsible party when pursuing legal action.
At Dallas Horton & Associates, we are dedicated to assisting you in constructing a solid case to secure the compensation you are entitled to in Las Vegas. Take the first step towards this by contacting us at 702-820-5917. Let us build your case and seek justice for your loved one’s death.