What Is Wrongful Death?

The term “wrongful death” may be misunderstood when filing a lawsuit.  Many people assume that if someone is killed in an accident, there can automatically be a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or group responsible for the accident.  Although this is often the case, there are times when wrongful death suits are inappropriate or impossible.  Additionally, there may be damages that are granted in some wrongful death lawsuits but not in others.  In order to fully understand what a wrongful death lawsuit is and how it applies to any given situation, it is helpful to look at the facts and laws surrounding the term.

What Is Wrongful Death?

“Wrongful death” is a legal term used to describe a situation in which a victim dies due to neglect, carelessness, or illegal action on the part of another person or entity.  While this seems fairly straightforward, it is important to remember that not all accidental deaths are classified as wrongful death.

For example, if a driver’s brakes fail due to no fault of his or her own, and the driver accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian, no “wrong” has been committed.  While there may be cause to sue the shop or mechanic that worked on the car, in some cases even this is not possible.  It is very important, in evaluating a wrongful death claim, to assess whether the person or group responsible for the death was acting with due care and caution.  In some cases, sadly, no one is “at fault” for the accident.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

Under the law, deceased persons do not have rights and therefore cannot sue someone for wrongful death.  All wrongful death claims must be brought by survivors with a demonstrable interest in the life of a person.  This means that not just anyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit.  In Alaska, the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate is the proper person to file a lawsuit.  In most cases, this person is the executor of the will; if no will exists, the court may appoint a representative for the estate.

What Causes Wrongful Death?

In Alaska, a wrongful death lawsuit may happen with either commission or omission of an act.  This means that the person responsible either acted or failed to act in a manner consistent with preserving human life and preventing fatal accidents.

This type of action can take many forms, including:

  • Causing a motor vehicle accident. Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of wrongful death.  Drivers have a legal duty not only to drive safely but also to maintain their vehicles to be safe on the road.
  • Causing a workplace accident. Another leading cause of wrongful death is an accident at work.  In these cases, the employer may be at fault, or someone else may have acted in a way that caused the employee’s death.
  • Causing a personal injury accident. A wide variety of personal injury accidents, including slip-and-fall, animal attacks, and others, can lead to wrongful death

Who Benefits From A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

According to Alaska law, the proceeds from a wrongful death lawsuit must go to the deceased victim’s immediate family.  In cases in which the victim has no surviving family members, others are permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit and receive the proceeds, but only to the extent that they had a pecuniary interest in the victim.  In other words, a business partner might be able to claim that the loss of his or her partner materially damaged the business and caused a loss of income.  In that case, the business partner might be able to recover under a wrongful death lawsuit

If your loved one has died in an accident, it is time to take action.  Call Barber & Associates today for help with your personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

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