- Wrongful death claims can be filed when a person is killed due to another party’s negligence or intentional harm.
- To establish liability in a wrongful death case, it must be shown that the defendant’s negligence or intent to harm caused the death, resulting in financial injury to the surviving family members.
- Wrongful death settlements provide compensation to survivors to cover funeral expenses, medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
- Structured settlements are often used to disburse monetary damages in wrongful death settlements, providing a steady income stream over a long period of time.
- Benefits of structured settlements include regular financial relief, fiscal restraint, tax advantages, and consistent income.
What Is a Wrongful Death Settlement?
Wrongful death settlements are designed to help the deceased’s survivors with compensation to cover funeral expenses, medical expenses, damages from lost income, along with pain and suffering. Repayment from a wrongful death lawsuit is commonly disbursed as a structured settlement over a long period of time.
Nearly 250,000 Americans die each year as a result of intentional or unintentional injury. Lawsuits are often required to determine whether these were wrongful deaths and the amount of liability for those responsible.
Wrongful death settlements result from the deceased’s loved ones filing a wrongful death claim. This is a civil action that survivors may file when a person is killed due to another party’s negligence or intentional harm.
Examples of Wrongful Deaths
- Accidental or intentional poisoning
- Deaths from personal injuries
- Deaths from slips and falls
- Elder abuse
- Fatal car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Product liability cases
- Workplace injuries leading to death
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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
To be eligible to file a wrongful death claim, a person must have suffered damages as a result of the victim’s death. Those who file for wrongful death are also referred to as “real parties in interest.” Typically, the claimant would be the person in charge of the victim’s assets and estate, but allowable circumstances vary from one state to the next.
- Immediate Family Members
- Immediate family members include spouses and children of the deceased, including adopted children. Parents of unmarried children are also eligible to benefit from a wrongful death claim.
- Financial Dependents
- Some states allow direct financial dependents or domestic partners to file wrongful death claims. They would then have a right to receive benefits from a wrongful death settlement.
- Parents of a Deceased Fetus
- The death of a fetus can sometimes qualify as a wrongful death suit, allowing for parents to receive compensation for pain and suffering and financial losses. In other cases, parents are only able to file a wrongful death claim if the fetus was born alive and then died. Check with your state to see if your claim qualifies.
- Distant Family Members
- Some states allow siblings and grandparents to file a wrongful death claim, especially if they were considered guardians to the victim.
Examples of Real Parties in Interest
Establishing Liability in Wrongful Death Cases
A wrongful death is when someone knowingly or negligently causes the death of another person, according to the Legal Information Institute.
There are three primary conditions you have to show in a wrongful death to establish someone’s liability.
Establishing Wrongful Death Liability
- Must show the death was caused by the defendant’s negligence or intent to harm.
- Surviving family members must suffer a financial injury due to the death.
- The defendant’s misconduct caused damages to the survivors.
If the death was the result of an intentional act, the defendant may still be found liable in a wrongful death civil case — even if they were not convicted of a criminal charge in the death.
The Role of Structured Settlements in Wrongful Death Claims
Structured settlements are often used to disburse monetary damages in wrongful death settlements. A structured settlement is a secure financial tool that distributes a steady income stream over a long period rather than as a single lump sum.
Typically with a wrongful death case, it’s a spouse or a parent who has passed away, according to Hunter Garnett, managing partner of Garnett Patterson Injury Lawyers in Huntsville, Alabama.
“Many times, the deceased is the breadwinner for the family,” Garnett told Annuity.org. “Structured settlements are typically used in wrongful death cases or catastrophic injury cases because the client needs to replace their income.”
Rather than paying out a one-time payment, a structured settlement will essentially substitute for the breadwinner’s income and benefits by providing a steady income stream over several years.
Benefits of Structured Settlements in Wrongful Death Claims
Structured settlements provide several benefits and financial solutions to the deceased’s survivors. They address several financial issues and may be the best way to handle payments from a wrongful death lawsuit, according to James C. DeZao, a New Jersey personal injury attorney.
“Structured settlement payments are paid out on a regular basis, such as monthly or annually, and provide much-needed financial relief for those affected by the loss of their family members,” DeZao told Annuity.org.
And according to Martin Gasparian, founding partner of California personal injury firm Maison Law, a structured settlement can also promote fiscal restraint by preventing the recipient from mismanaging a lump-sum payment.
“This is especially useful for those who aren’t used to handling large sums of money, or who are financially inexperienced due to age,” Gasparian told Annuity.org. “It can prevent them from overspending and facilitate a consistent income.”
In addition, wrongful death settlements are generally not taxed. And, since most structured settlements are funded as annuities, they have additional tax advantages in the long run.
“Annuities are not taxed either, so the client’s cash flow from the settlement is tax-free for life,” Garnett explained.
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Evaluating the Value of a Wrongful Death Settlement
Typically, a financial expert is needed to put a monetary value on a wrongful death settlement. There are several factors to consider, starting with the deceased’s potential future earnings.
“This can be done by taking into account factors such as current life expectancy, occupation, and educational level or training in comparison with similar individuals of their age and profession,” DeZao said.
Other factors to consider include:
- Cost of medical treatments leading up to death
- Funeral expenses
- Insurance payments from an employer-sponsored plan — if they had not died
- Loss of potential inheritance
- Loss of support
- Services provided to dependents
- Spousal benefits from Social Security — if they had not died
After all these factors are considered, the court may award compensation for loss of companionship or emotional distress, pain and suffering.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Settlements
A wrongful death structured settlement can provide ongoing payments to the survivors of the deceased over a long period of time. This can provide a steady stream of income for family members that can replace the loss of the deceased’s income.
The court considers several factors when determining the value of a wrongful death settlement. These include the deceased’s:
– Circumstances surrounding their death.
– Dependents’ ages and needs such as medical care and education.
– Education and training.
– Income at time of death.
– Lifetime earning ability.
– Value of pensions, health insurance and other lost benefits.
Wrongful death settlements address monetary damages the deceased and their dependents suffered and may include:
-The deceased’s pain and suffering as a result of the action leading to death.
– Medical expenses associated with the death.
– Lost wages.
– Family economic losses including the deceased’s income and benefits.
– Family non-economic losses including pain and suffering.
– Punitive damages to punish the defendant for the actions that led to the – wrongful death.
It can take one to four years to resolve a wrongful death case, though some may be completed sooner. Reaching a settlement in a wrongful death case without ever going to trial may still require several months to a few years as both sides negotiate terms.
A lump-sum payment is a single, large payment for the full amount of the settlement. A structured settlement pays the amount out over time in a series of periodic payments. The structured settlement has the advantage of providing a steady, long-term income stream for the deceased’s survivors.