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What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Posted by attorney Patrick Chatterton

Under Michigan law, a wrongful death cause of action arises out of the death of a loved one. It allows family members and other dependents to recover monetary damages in the event that a loved one was killed as a result of the negligence or misconduct of another party. The victim's death must have been caused by the wrongful, negligent, careless, or reckless act of another. Common wrongful death cases involve:

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents
  • Alcohol-related Accidents
  • Medical Malpractice or Negligence
  • Airplane Accidents
  • Criminal Attacks
  • Dangerous Work Conditions
  • Drownings
  • Fires, Burns, and Smoke Inhalation
  • Poisoning

Who is entitled to recover damages?

Michigan law sets forth the conditions that must be met in order for family members or dependants to have a cause of action and be entitled to recover damages for the death of a loved one. The person or persons entitled to recover must have suffered damages and must have survived the deceased. In addition, the law limits recovery to the following individuals:

  • The deceased's spouse, children, descendants, parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters.
  • If none of the above survive the deceased, then those individuals that would be entitled to inheritance under the law.
  • The children of the deceased's spouse.
  • Those persons who are named in the will of the deceased.

Generally, unmarried spouses and step children are not entitled to recover, and children born out of wedlock and next of kin may be entitled to damages if they can show financial loss or financial dependency. If no beneficiaries meet the qualifications, the wrongful death cause of action must fail.

What type of damages may be recovered?

The standard used in determining damages is fairness and equity. A court or jury will look at how much money the family lost and may award damages for:

  • Reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses;
  • Reasonable compensation for the pain and suffering of the deceased, while conscious, during the period between the time of the injury and death;
  • Damages for the loss of financial support and future earnings;
  • Damages for the loss of services, such as the nurturing, care, and education of a parent or services performed as a spouse;
  • Damages for the loss of the society (love and affection) and companionship of the deceased.

While Michigan courts generally do not award punitive damages in wrongful death cases, as a means to punish the at-fault party, if the death occurred in another state or the laws of another state apply to the cause of action, punitive damages may also be awarded.

What defenses exist in a wrongful death case?

There are a variety of defenses that exist, including the statute of limitations, which may serve as a permanent bar to a wrongful death cause of action. The statute of limitations in most wrongful death cases in Michigan is three years from the date of death, although in some cases the timeframe within which the cause of action must be brought may be shorter, or the cause of action will be permanently time barred.

Other common defenses include causation, which asserts a lack of causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the death of the victim such that the defendant cannot be held liable for the victim’s death. Comparative negligence may also serve to reduce the overall award amount by the extent to which the deceased victim was also at fault. In addition, imputed comparative negligence takes into consideration the contributory fault of a beneficiary in reducing the overall award amount. For example, in a car accident involving a husband and wife, if the husband (passenger) was killed, the fault of the wife (driver) may be taken into consideration in reducing the amount of damages the driver of the other car may have to pay to the wife in a wrongful death case for causing the death of the husband.

Contact us today.

If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or misconduct of another person, contact the Law Office of Patrick L. Chatterton today. Flint, MI personal injury attorney Patrick Chatterton has the knowledge, experience, and compassion to counsel you and your family through this difficult period. We handle all personal injury cases on a contingency basis, so you have nothing to lose and will incur no fees unless you win.

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