How much do you know about wrongful death cases? You may have heard the family of Ronald Goldman, the significant other of Nicole Brown Simpson, received a judgement of more than $80 million dollars against O.J. Simpson ,. Although O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder in the criminal trial of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, he was found to be responsible for the Goldman’s death in a civil suit. The attorney’s representing Fred Goldman and his family proved that Simpson was indeed at fault for their son’s death. Although most wrongful death suits are not this high-profile, this particular case serves as a quick introduction to the concept.
Wrongful Death Claims
A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit brought against a person who is believed to be at fault for a death. The person being sued is referred to as the defendant because their attorney must defend them in court. The family member of the deceased who brought forth the lawsuit is referred to as the plaintiff. Both sides are represented by attorneys, and the case is tried before a judge, not a jury. Wrongful death cases are civil suits. The defendant will not be sentenced to jail for their actions, even if they are found guilty. Instead, monetary damages are awarded to the plaintiff if they successfully prove their case. In the example described above, even though O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder, the attorneys representing Fred Goldman proved that Simpson was the cause of Ron’s death. As a result, Simpson wasn’t sent to jail. Instead, the damages were monetary in nature.
Filing Wrongful Death Claims
When a person dies as a result of someone else’s actions, their loved ones can file a wrongful death claim. However, not just anyone can do so. State laws differ, but in Ohio, the plaintiff must be an immediate family member, such as a parent, spouse, or child of the deceased. An unmarried life partner or dependent of another sort may be able to file as well, as long as they can prove that they were financially dependent on the deceased. Only one person can file a case in court, and they will receive the majority of the damages if they prove their case. However, other family members can join in the suit and make their claim that they are also owed damages.
Wrongful Death Defendants
It seems straightforward that the defendant in a wrongful death case would be the one who directly contributed to the death. In some cases it is just that simple. The person who sped down the highway at 80 miles per hour and then slammed into a car parked on the side of the road with its hazards on, killing the person in that car, is clearly at fault – if it can be proven in a court of law. Other cases are not so cure and dry. For instance a bartender who served the defendant too many drinks, or the government body that didn’t provide enough signs or orange barrels in a construction zone, can be sued for wrongful death. If the car the defendant was driving had a faulty part that malfunctioned and the auto manufacturer knew about it but didn’t set a recall, then the manufacturer may end up in court. There are numerous other examples. It all depends on the specific circumstances of the case.
Who Cannot be a Defendant
In some cases, certain groups of people and their organizations can’t be sued for wrongful death. These people and companies are said to have immunity. There are specific government agencies and legislative bodies that can’t be sued. Not every state has this immunity in place, and it all depends on the manner of death and the circumstances that caused it. Your best bet is to contact a wrongful death attorney to see what your options are. They will determine if the person or organization is immune. If they are not, then a wrongful death suit may be filed.
Wrongful deaths occur every day. Some are obvious, such as a person who operated their vehicle in a negligent manner or a doctor who didn’t perform their duty. Others are less clear cut, like the automobile manufacturer. If you believe your loved one died a wrongful death, and that someone specific is the cause, then you need to contact me today and I’ll Make Them Pay!®