A Wrongful Death claim arises when the death of a family member is caused by the conduct or negligence of another.
Wrongful deaths may result from motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, work-site accidents, animal attacks, defective products or any number of other types of accidents. The purpose of such a claim is to recover financial losses suffered by the next-of-kin of the decedent. Such financial losses may include the loss of the decedent’s salary or other benefits, medical expenses, the loss of companionship, assistance, protection, support, and funeral-related costs.
In Minnesota car accident cases, the next-of-kin are entitled to no-fault benefits from the decedent’s own auto insurance policy or the policy of the vehicle in which the decedent was riding. Such benefits include:
- Funeral Expenses ($5,000 limit)
- Medical Expenses ($20,000 minimum limit which may be larger with some insurers and greater if covered under multiple policies)
- Wage Loss (up to $500/week, unless covered by multiple coverages)
- Replacement Services
People are often hesitant to bring a lawsuit for cases of wrongful accidental death because they feel it is impossible to place a dollar value on the love and companionship of their loved one, or on that person’s unique contribution to the family and the community. It is true that one can never place a monetary value on that special person. But a wrongful death lawsuit CAN do two things:
- It can help a family overcome the loss of income and service that their loved one brought to the household so that family life can continue for the survivors, and
- It can hold the negligent party responsible for his/her wrongful actions.
A wrongful death claim can only be brought by the next-of-kin. Next-of-kin includes:
The claim is brought by a court-appointed trustee on behalf of the next-of-kin. Typically, the trustee is a spouse or a parent, if the decedent is a child. At the conclusion of the claim, the amount of recovery is distributed in accordance with a family agreement (with the court’s approval) or by the court if the family is unable to come to an agreement.
There is typically a three-year statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim which begins to run after the death. However, some cases may involve issues which shorten or lengthen the statute of limitations. For example, the statute of limitations of a case involving a dram shop claim (e.g., a bar which has sold an obviously intoxicated person an alcoholic beverage who then causes an accident) shortens the statute of limitations to just two-years. Thus, it is very important to consult an attorney to determine which statute of limitation may apply. It is crucial to take action as soon as possible to preserve evidence, contact witnesses, and ensure that the rights of the next-of-kin are protected.
Wrongful death cases are sometimes difficult to evaluate; however, as one prominent defense attorney, James Martin, observed in a recent professional journal, the value of such cases in Minnesota and nationally has dramatically risen in recent years. Minnesota, which couches recovery upon the “pecuniary loss” sustained by the next-of-kin, has expanded that concept to include “loss of aid, comfort, advice and companionship.” Recoveries in death cases in claims involving productive adults typically run over a million dollars and sometimes much more. Kenneth Feinberg, the special master responsible for evaluating the 9/11 death claims, concluded the value of the average 9/11 loss of life claim was $1.8 million. Although, for the most part, Mr. Feinberg’s findings disregarded the loss of income of high wage earners, which would have significantly raised the value of the claim. Cases involving children, minors and the elderly, likewise, have risen considerably in recent years as insurers and jurors have re-evaluated the value of a lost loved one.