Chapter 1: Understanding a Wrongful Death

Understanding a Wrongful DeathA death that is “wrongful” is one that is caused by the negligence or unlawful act of another person, persons, business or organization. The erroneous conduct can, under the law, be either intentional or unintentional.

A wrongful death case refers to the type of personal injury claim that may be brought on behalf of certain surviving relatives to recover compensation against the party or parties responsible for causing the death of a family member.

A single person or multiple individuals can cause a wrongful death. It can also be caused by a non-person, such as a local business, corporation or governmental entity. Additionally, the cause of a death can be the combination of a person and a nonperson. For example, an employee and his or her company may be identified as the responsible parties in these types of legal claims.

When a wrongful death occurs, an action against the responsible party or parties may be pursued in the name of the estate of the deceased.

Most wrongful death claims are based on the act of negligence committed by the responsible party or parties. The term “negligence” is defined as “the failure to exercise ordinary care under the same or similar circumstances.” Therefore, to prove a claim, you must show that the person or persons who caused the death were acting carelessly in some way.

Sometimes, it can be easy to conclude whether a person was negligent, and that the negligence resulted in another person’s death. In other circumstances, it can be very challenging to determine.

Civil Responsibility vs. Criminal Responsibility

There is a distinct and important difference between civil and criminal liability in wrongful death cases. A civil claim will involve only the recovery of money against the responsible party or parties.

Often the party accused of causing the death is defended by an insurance company. In a civil claim, the primary challenge is in determining what amount of money must be paid to compensate the surviving relatives. The party or parties responsible will only be required to pay money, not be sentenced to serve jail time in a civil case.

A person who is found to have caused a wrongful death may also be criminally responsible. The responsible party or parties must have acted intentionally or recklessly to be guilty of a crime. If criminal liability does exist, the responsible party or parties may in fact be sentenced to prison.

Although a claim may be brought against a person who kills another, the claim may not be worth pursuing because there is no insurance policy to pay a settlement or verdict. Discussing the details of the case with an Ohio attorney experienced with wrongful death cases will help in determining if a claim can and should be pursued.

Time Limits to File a Wrongful Death Claim

There exist strictly defined time limits on when a wrongful death case may be filed or pursued. This is referred to as the Statute of Limitations.

In Ohio, the Statute of Limitations is typically two (2) years from the date of death. This means that the case must either be settled or filed in court within this time frame or the claim is no longer valid.

It is not advisable to wait until the end of the two-year period before filing a suit or a claim but rather to begin investigating a case immediately following the person’s death.

An insurance company or companies will likely contest your claim. You need to take necessary actions to support and prove your wrongful death claim. This may include gathering witness statements, performing an accident reconstruction, obtaining a private autopsy, and hiring the appropriate experts. Prompt investigations can dramatically increase the likelihood of a case being successful.

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