Losing a loved one is always difficult. But it can be especially painful if that loss was due to another person’s negligence. Families have the right to bring wrongful death claims in Washington, D.C. However, winning the compensation your family deserves is no simple task.
Let the compassionate and dedicated personal injury attorneys of Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP help. We work with clients in the Washington, D.C. area to get them and their families the justice they deserve after a wrongful death.
What Is Wrongful Death?
When someone’s negligent acts or omissions cause harm to another person, the victim can bring a personal injury lawsuit. You can think of wrongful death as an extension of personal injury law that applies when the victim is not just injured but dies as a result of the responsible party’s negligence. When this occurs, certain heirs and lawful beneficiaries can take legal action.
Just as with personal injury, there are many different types of cases that can give rise to a wrongful death claim. They include:
- Automobile and truck accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Medical malpractice cases
- Nursing home abuse and neglect
- Defective consumer products
- Premises liability (being killed on another person’s property)
These are only a few examples. If you believe your relative died because of wrongful death, an experienced attorney can advise as to whether you have a case.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim In Washington, D.C.?
The personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate is responsible for filing a wrongful death claim on behalf of the surviving spouse or domestic partner. If there is no surviving spouse or domestic partner, then the next of kin – which may include children, parents, or siblings of the deceased victim – can file the claim. After a wrongful death has occurred, the surviving family members need to speak with an attorney to determine how best to proceed.
How Long Does The Family Have To File?
Civil actions have time limits, meaning they have to be filed within a certain amount of time or they become void. This deadline to file is known as the statute of limitations. For wrongful death actions in Washington, D.C., the claim must be filed no later than two years after the victim died.
It’s important to note that there are exceptions to this rule that can shorten or extend the deadline to file. In any event, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Not only do you not want to run into a statute of limitations issue, but it generally becomes harder to file the longer you wait. Evidence can be lost, witnesses’ memories can fade, and details can be forgotten if you wait too long.
How To Prove Wrongful Death in Washington, D.C.
The elements of a wrongful death claim are similar to those of personal injury lawsuits. The family must establish the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the deceased victim. This can be anything from the obligation to drive safely to the duty of care imposed on doctors and other medical practitioners.
- The defendant breached the duty of care. The breach occurs through some act or omission that amounts to negligence and can include reckless and intentional actions.
- The defendant’s breach directly caused the victim’s death. This requires explaining in detail the causal link between the negligent act or omission and the death.
- As a result of the above, the surviving family members have suffered damages. The damages have to be quantified, which typically requires the assistance of an expert witness.
What Damages May Be Available?
Every wrongful death case is different, so you should speak with an experienced attorney about the damages that may be available in your case. The most common damages include:
- The deceased victim’s final medical expenses
- The victim’s pain and suffering before death
- Funeral and burial costs
- The deceased victim’s future lost wages
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of support, care, and other services
- Loss of parental training and guidance
- In some cases, punitive damages
Getting your damages right the first time is critical. If your case goes to trial or settles, and your family is awarded damages as a result, you won’t get to request more compensation later. Some damages are readily quantifiable, but others can be complicated. This is where having an expert witness will prove essential.
Can A Wrongful Death Case Be Filed If There’s Already A Criminal Case?
Because wrongful death cases often involve serious cases of negligence or recklessness, such as drunk driving, there are typically criminal charges filed against the responsible party. But wrongful death claims are civil. Even if criminal proceedings are taking place or pending, the family can file a wrongful death action.
How Can A Washington, D.C. Wrongful Death Attorney Help Me?
Wrongful death cases are complex, and knowing the law is only the beginning. An attorney will also need to understand relevant statutes concerning civil procedure and evidence. These rules are necessary to make sure the defendant is properly served and the case is sufficiently proven in court. Not knowing the applicable laws and rules can inadvertently jeopardize your ability to recover damages.
A skilled attorney will also know how to properly value your case. That means understanding the monetary worth of your wrongful death claim and the evidence that will be needed to prove it. As mentioned above, you only get one chance to show how much money your lawsuit is worth.
Finally, a wrongful death attorney will understand how to negotiate a possible settlement for your claim. Many wrongful death lawsuits settle before reaching the courtroom. If the defendant or his or her insurance company offers to settle the case, your lawyer will weigh the advantages of settlement versus the risk of taking the matter to trial. That way, you and your family can make an informed decision of whether to accept the offer.
Contact Our Washington D.C. Wrongful Death Attorney
Nothing can bring back a loved one after a wrongful death. But the right lawyer can help win the compensation your family deserves. Trust the team at Koonz McKenney Johnson & DePaolis LLP. Call us today to discuss your case.