Understanding the Legal Process of Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

By Peter DePaolis

Suddenly losing a loved one can cause overwhelming grief. The death of a family member can also cause a financial burden for the surviving family members. A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action seeking damages from individuals who caused your family member’s death. 

Wrongful death claims are a type of personal injury case. However, there are different laws governing claims for wrongful death. Therefore, working with a D.C. wrongful death lawyer with substantial experience handling these types of actions is essential. 

Examples of Wrongful Death Claims in Washington, DC

D.C. Code §16-2701 defines wrongful death as a death caused by intentional conduct, negligence, or other wrongdoing that would have resulted in a personal injury claim had the person survived. In other words, the decedent could have recovered compensation for their economic and non-economic damages had they lived.

A wrongful death claim can arise from most types of personal injury cases. You might have a wrongful death claim if your loved one died because of the following:

  • A motor vehicle accident
  • Defective product
  • Medical malpractice
  • Dog attacks
  • Nursing home abuse
  • Construction accidents
  • Slip and fall accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Premises liability claims

The best way to know if your family is entitled to compensation for a wrongful death claim is to talk with a D.C. wrongful death lawyer. An attorney can evaluate your claim and advise you of your legal options during a free initial appointment. 

Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Only specific parties can file wrongful death lawsuits. Some states allow surviving family members to file a lawsuit. However, the D.C. wrongful death laws require the deceased’s personal representative to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

The surviving spouse and children are the wrongful death beneficiaries who receive the proceeds from the lawsuit. However, if the deceased did not have a surviving spouse or children, other family members, including parents, siblings, and other relatives, could be beneficiaries.

The damages are paid to the estate. If the deceased had a Will, the personal representative distributes the damages in proportion to the loss each heir suffered. If the deceased did not have a Will, the wrongful death damages are distributed according to D.C. intestate laws.

A personal representative must file the wrongful death lawsuit within two years from the date of death. If not, the family members lose the right to seek wrongful death damages. 

What Damages Can I Recover for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in D.C.?

The damages for a wrongful death claim differ slightly from those in a personal injury case. The family can recover damages for:

  • The cost of medical care from the date the person was injured through their date of death
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of contributions of support, care, companionship, guidance, training, personal advice, and education
  • The loss of income and benefits the deceased person would have earned had they not died

Washington DC wrongful death laws do not compensate family members for the grief, pain, and suffering they experience because of their family member’s death. However, there are no caps on the amount of compensation for allowed damages. 

Schedule a Free Consultation with a D.C. Personal Injury Lawyer 

Wrongful death lawsuits are complex personal injury cases. An experienced D.C. personal injury attorney can help your family navigate the complicated wrongful death laws and the emotional difficulty of pursuing a claim. In addition, an attorney has the resources and expertise to investigate the cause of your loved one’s death, hire expert witnesses when needed, and gather evidence proving your case. Contact our law firm for a free consultation. We want to help you seek justice for your loved one and family.

About the Author
Peter DePaolis joined the firm in 1980 and has since represented a large number of individuals involved in automobile collisions, truck accidents, bus crashes, defective products, and medical malpractice cases. A significant portion of Mr. DePaolis’ practice is devoted to working on behalf of people suffering from asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related cancers. He has led his firm’s fight against the asbestos industry and has recovered over $30 million in damages for asbestos victims and their families.