Losing a loved one is a painful and distressing experience, with the circumstances surrounding their passing significantly affecting the grieving process. Wrongful death, resulting from someone's negligence or intentional actions, can be devastating. One avenue for survivors to explore in these cases is pursuing compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit. While this legal recourse cannot restore a lost loved one, it serves several essential purposes, primarily offering funds to help the dependents navigate life following the tragic loss.
Hiring a personal injury attorney is frequently pivotal when striving for equitable compensation and a favorable outcome. The Las Vegas personal injury attorneys at Dallas Horton & Associates break down wrongful death claims below.
Wrongful Death Claims
In Nevada, a wrongful death claim is pursued when an individual loses his/her life due to another person or entity's wrongful actions or negligence. This legal avenue empowers surviving family members or designated beneficiaries to seek compensation to cover the losses and damages incurred due to the tragic loss. Wrongful death claims primarily focus on holding the responsible party accountable for their actions. It also provides essential financial support to those suffering from this loss.
Wrongful death describes various situations, including:
- Negligence-based incidents — Wrongful death can occur as a result of negligence. Examples include car accidents, workplace mishaps, slip and fall occurrences, or any scenario where someone's failure to exercise reasonable care culminates in a fatal outcome.
- Medical malpractice — Wrongful death claims can emerge from incidents of medical malpractice. These cases involve situations where a healthcare provider's negligent actions or omissions lead to the death of a patient.
- Intentional acts — Occasionally, wrongful death could result from deliberate actions, including criminal activities like homicide or assault. When an individual's purposeful conduct results in another person's demise, it is an opportunity to pursue a wrongful death claim.
Note: Wrongful death claims are civil lawsuits, separate from criminal proceedings. In wrongful death cases, the primary objective is to secure financial compensation for the surviving family members or beneficiaries of the deceased rather than pursue criminal charges against the responsible party.
In criminal cases, the government, represented by a prosecutor, brings forth charges against individuals or entities for alleged violations of criminal laws. In the event of a criminal conviction, the defendant could face penalties, including imprisonment, fines, probation, or other criminal sanctions.
Conversely, wrongful death claims represent civil actions initiated by the survivors or beneficiaries of the deceased. The aim is to seek compensation for various losses, including:
- Medical expenses.
- Funeral expenditures.
- Lost income, and
- Other damages stemming from the unfortunate death.
The ultimate resolution of a wrongful death lawsuit typically revolves around the payment of financial damages to the survivors, as opposed to the imposition of criminal penalties on the responsible party.
Per Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) Section 11.190, a wrongful death lawsuit usually must be started within two years from the date of the victim’s passing. Failing to initiate the suit within this period can invalidate your claim. This could potentially cause you to forfeit the chance to seek compensation.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
In a wrongful death claim, several essential elements must be established to demonstrate that another party's wrongful actions or negligence resulted in an individual's death. These are:
Death of a Person
The foundation of a wrongful death claim is the death of an individual, which the wrongful actions, negligence, or intentional conduct of another party must have caused.
Duty of Care
The responsible party, often called the defendant, must have had a legal duty of care toward the deceased person. The nature of this duty varies depending on the circumstances but generally entails a legal obligation to act reasonably and responsibly to prevent harm.
Breach of Duty
You must demonstrate that the defendant breached their duty of care through negligent or intentional actions to substantiate the claim. This breach can incorporate various forms of misconduct, like reckless behavior in a car accident or medical malpractice in a healthcare setting.
Establishing a direct link between the defendant's breach of duty and the individual's death is crucial. It must be evident that the defendant's actions or negligence significantly contributed to the death.
The wrongful death claim must specify the damages incurred by the surviving family members or the deceased's estate. These damages include economic and non-economic losses, including medical expenses, lost income, funeral and burial costs, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.
Individuals Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim
Specific individuals or entities in Nevada have the legal authority to initiate a wrongful death claim. Per NRS 41.085, these parties usually include:
- Surviving family members — Under Nevada law, certain surviving family members can participate in the wrongful death claim as beneficiaries. These eligible family members commonly include the surviving spouse, domestic partner, children, adopted children, and, in certain instances, parents or other dependents of the deceased.
- Designated beneficiaries — In specific scenarios, the deceased individual could have formally designated other individuals or entities as beneficiaries through a written agreement. These designated beneficiaries also hold the authority to file a wrongful death claim.
- Personal representative — The primary individual authorized to file a wrongful death claim in Nevada is the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. This personal representative is typically designated through the deceased person's will or a court appointment.
Note: When the deceased person was married at the time of their passing, it is the surviving spouse, domestic partner, or children who are regarded as the primary beneficiaries. They have the legal authority to initiate a wrongful death claim.
However, if the deceased individual was unmarried and lacked a surviving spouse or domestic partner, the potential heirs or beneficiaries are the deceased’s parents or siblings. In cases where neither parents nor siblings exist, the nearest surviving family member who is neither a sibling nor a parent could be eligible to engage in a wrongful death claim.
Damages Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful death claims result in substantial settlements and jury awards. This is because of the profound impact on surviving family members and the recognition by courts of the emotional, financial, and personal toll exacted by wrongful death. Consequently, the compensation pursued in these claims typically encompasses substantial amounts to address the comprehensive scope of damages sustained.
The damages depend on who filed the wrongful death suit. Below is a look at the damages recoverable in each category:
Damages Recoverable by Surviving Family Members
When family members decide to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, they open the possibility of obtaining various forms of compensation, which include:
- Pain, suffering, or disfigurement — In cases where the deceased experienced physical pain, suffering, or disfigurement before their passing due to the incident leading to wrongful death, compensation could also be sought. These damages include both the physical and emotional aspects of the case.
- Lost benefits and wages — These damages account for the financial support and income the deceased would have contributed to the family had they survived. It recognizes the economic aspect of the loss.
- Loss of affection, care, comfort, and companionship — This category of damages acknowledges the intangible losses experienced by family members. It encompasses the emotional void created by the absence of the deceased's affection, care, comfort, and companionship. This loss is also referred to as loss of consortium.
- Survivor’s sorrow and grief — Compensation could be available to address the profound emotional pain, suffering, and misery endured by family members due to the loss of their loved one. These damages acknowledge the emotional toll of wrongful death.
Damages Recoverable by Personal Representatives
When the personal representative of the deceased individual initiates a wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada, the estate could be entitled to receive the following categories of compensation:
- Medical bills resulting from the deceased's final injuries or illness — If the deceased’s passing was a consequence of injuries or disease, the estate could seek compensation for the medical bills directly related to the final injuries or illness. This covers expenses like hospital bills, doctor's fees, prescription medications, and other medical costs associated with the injuries or illness that led to the individual's demise.
- Reasonable burial expenses — The estate can seek compensation for the justifiable costs linked to the burial of the deceased. These expenses generally cover the funeral service, burial plot, casket, and any directly associated burial-related expenditures.
- Reasonable funeral expenses — Like burial expenses, the estate can pursue reimbursement for reasonable funeral costs incurred due to the death. This includes a range of expenses, including those tied to the funeral service itself, transportation, and other arrangements related to the funeral.
There are instances in wrongful death lawsuits where personal representatives could also pursue punitive damages on behalf of the deceased. It is possible if the deceased could have sought the damages had they survived.
Note: Punitive damages serve a different purpose than compensatory damages. They are designed to penalize the defendant for exceptionally reckless or egregious behavior.
What is the Likely Worth of a Wrongful Death Claim?
The value of a wrongful death claim depends on numerous case-specific factors, which include:
- Deceased person's age and income — The age and earnings of the deceased person are pivotal in gauging the claim's potential value. Younger individuals with substantial earning potential could lead to more significant claims. This is the case since the jury’s decision accounts for their future financial contributions.
- Deceased person's life expectancy — The deceased person's life expectancy is a crucial factor. It aids in estimating the potential duration of financial support, and contributions that the deceased would have provided to their family had he/she not tragically passed away.
- Nature of the plaintiff's relationship — The connection between the plaintiff (the individual initiating the wrongful death claim) and the deceased person holds significant weight. Spouses, children, and dependents often possess stronger claims due to their close familial ties and the emotional and financial support they would have received from the deceased.
- State law on wrongful death — Juries consider Nevada Law on wrongful death. This law addresses the potential plaintiffs, individuals responsible for the death, and the damages to be sought. Understanding All this information is essential for assessing the claim's potential value.
- Economic and non-economic damages — The prospective compensation within a wrongful death claim includes:
- Economic damages, for example, medical expenses, lost income, and
- Non-economic damages like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, and emotional distress.
The quantification of these damages fluctuates based on the case's unique circumstances.
- Punitive damages — In certain instances, punitive damages could come into consideration. These damages are designed to penalize the defendant for particularly reckless or egregious behavior and can exert a substantial impact on the overall claim value.
Modified Comparative Negligence and its Impact on Damages
Nevada's legal system relies on its modified comparative negligence law, found in NRS 41.141, to address personal injury and wrongful death cases. This statute is vital in ensuring that individuals who share some degree of fault can still seek compensation for their injuries or losses.
Central to this law is comparative negligence. Recovery of damages is possible even if the injured party or the deceased in a wrongful death case bears some responsibility for the incident. However, there's a critical threshold: the injured party's or decedent's negligence cannot be greater than that of the parties they seek damages from. If it is, they cannot recover any damages. This provision ensures that responsibility is fairly distributed based on the level of negligence involved.
When a case involves comparative negligence, the judge provides specific instructions to the jury. They are told that recovery is not permitted if the plaintiff's or decedent's negligence surpasses that of the defendant(s). However, if the jury determines that damages should be awarded, they return a general verdict without considering comparative negligence. Additionally, the jury provides a special verdict, specifying the percentage of negligence attributed to each party involved.
One crucial aspect is how settlements are handled. If a defendant settles with the plaintiff before a judgment is entered, the settlement amount and the defendant's comparative negligence are not disclosed to the jury. Instead, the judge deducts the settlement amount from the net sum the plaintiff would otherwise recover based on the verdicts, ensuring that settlements do not influence the trial proceedings.
When multiple defendants are found liable, they are individually responsible for the portion of the judgment corresponding to their percentage of negligence, adhering to the concept of severally liable. However, there are exceptions. Some situations, like intentional torts, strict liability, hazardous substance emissions, injuries caused by specific products, or concerted acts of the defendants, could still involve joint and several liability.
Note: Concerted acts of the defendants do not include negligent acts committed by healthcare providers working together to treat a patient. Medical cases have unique complexities.
In cases involving comparative negligence, when the jury decides that you are eligible to receive damages, they issue two separate verdicts:
- Regular verdict — This verdict determines the total amount of damages to which you are entitled without factoring in any assessment of fault or negligence. It calculates the full scope of your losses.
- Special verdict — This verdict provides a detailed breakdown of the percentage of negligence assigned to each party involved. It outlines the degree of responsibility attributed to each party for the incident.
If your share of fault in the incident is 50% or less, the judge will adjust your damage award by the percentage of negligence ascribed to you. This adjustment mirrors your level of responsibility for the incident.
This approach ensures that your recovery is proportionally modified based on your degree of fault. If your contribution to the incident's negligence is relatively minor, it does not necessarily disqualify you from seeking compensation. However, it does impact the final amount you receive.
Potential Defendants in a Wrongful Death Suit
Wrongful death lawsuits can target those individuals or entities whose actions or negligence are determined to be responsible for an individual's demise. The potential defendants in wrongful death cases include:
This category typically includes individuals whose actions directly led to the victim's death. For example, if someone's reckless driving results in a fatal car accident, they could become the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit.
Medical malpractice is another category where wrongful death suits are sought. A wrongful death can occur when a healthcare provider's negligence or mistakes lead to a patient's death. The healthcare provider or the medical institution could be sued for wrongful death.
In situations involving defective products or machinery that cause a fatal accident, the manufacturer or distributor of the flawed product could be held accountable for wrongful death.
In cases where a workplace accident or unsafe working conditions lead to an employee's death, the employer could face a wrongful death lawsuit. In other situations, employers become defendants if their employees cause a victim’s death.
Property owners or managers can be subject to a wrongful death lawsuit if there are dangerous conditions. These conditions include inadequate security or hazardous environments. The conditions contribute to a fatal incident.
In specific scenarios, government entities can be the target of wrongful death suits. This is the case primarily if the death arises from government employees' or agencies' negligence or misconduct.
Note: The circumstances surrounding the death dictate who can be pursued in a wrongful death case.
In wrongful death cases, it is expected to have multiple defendants. It is the case mainly when the circumstances are intricate or when several parties share responsibility for the individual's death. In these cases, each defendant is held responsible for their specific role or degree of negligence that contributed to the wrongful death.
For example, let us take a fatal car accident with various contributing factors like reckless driving, a defective vehicle component, and inadequate road maintenance. In this scenario, the drivers involved, the manufacturer of the faulty vehicle part, and the government entity responsible for road upkeep could be defendants in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Including multiple defendants in a case allows for a comprehensive examination of the factors that led to the wrongful death. It ensures that accountability is assigned equitably, considering each party's level of fault.
Furthermore, the modified comparative negligence rule still applies when multiple parties share responsibility in a wrongful death scenario. However, the calculations can become more intricate. The party deemed most responsible for the incident could have their potential recovery offset by what they owe to the other parties involved. This approach guarantees that parties found partially at fault are not completely precluded from seeking compensation. Instead, they receive adjusted recoveries commensurate with their respective levels of negligence.
Wrongful Death Settlements
Many wrongful death lawsuits often reach a settlement resolution before going to trial. This is the case mainly when the incident leading to the wrongful death falls under the coverage of a liability insurance policy, for example, in cases involving car accidents. In these scenarios, the insurance company could choose to settle the claim initiated by the survivors without the need for formal litigation.
Settlements offer distinct advantages to both parties involved in a wrongful death case. A settlement provides a swift resolution for the survivors, sparing them from the uncertainties and stresses associated with a trial. Conversely, settling can serve as a means to curtail legal expenses and mitigate the potential risks linked to an unfavorable trial verdict for the defendant and their insurance company.
The process of achieving a settlement entails negotiations between the plaintiff. These negotiations often consist of survivors or beneficiaries and the defendant, frequently represented by the insurance company.
While settlements deliver efficiency and a measure of predictability, survivors must ascertain that any settlement offer fully encompasses the extent of their losses. Seeking counsel from an experienced wrongful death attorney can prove pivotal in securing a settlement that is both equitable and just.
Find a Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Contact a skilled and experienced wrongful death attorney who can provide legal guidance and support for your case if you require legal representation for a wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada. At Dallas Horton & Associates, we will help you understand the complexities of your situation and assess its legal strength.
In wrongful death cases, time is of the essence. The sooner you take action and consult with a Las Vegas attorney, the better your chances of constructing a strong case and pursuing the rightful compensation you and your loved one deserve.
Please do not hesitate to contact our office today at 702-820-5917 to arrange a consultation with our seasoned wrongful death attorneys. We offer unwavering support and top-tier legal representation during this challenging period. Remember that seeking justice for your loved one is your right and your responsibility.