If you have lost a loved one due to the actions of another, you may wonder what recourse you have. You may also wonder if you have a legal case and what can be done to amend the wrong done to you. Sadly, there is no substitution for the loss of a family member, but Connecticut has a mechanism in place to recover financial losses from someone if their negligent actions led to their death. That mechanism is known as a wrongful death lawsuit, and as a survivor, you may have a wrongful death claim that entitles you to fair compensation. Before proceeding, however, you need to know if you have a wrongful death case. What follows is a primer to help you determine if you do.
What is a Wrongful Death Case?
A wrongful death case occurs when a civil action is brought forth by surviving members of the family or by the estate of someone who died due to intentional acts, misconduct, or negligence of another. When this happens, a member of the family can sue for recompense or survivors’ loss.
Pecuniary, or monetary injury, is the basis for measuring damages in a wrongful death suit. The courts define pecuniary injuries as loss of services, support, lost prospect of inheritance, as well as medical and funeral costs. Another loss that Connecticut recognizes is loss of spousal and parental consortium.
What is Loss of Consortium?
There are certain criteria considered by law to constitute ‘consortium’ deprived from a family relationship when a victim passes. Consortium includes companionship, physical intimacies, society, affection, and dependence. This is also particularly significant when an adult victim dies since they leave behind minor children who can no longer receive their guidance.
How Are Damages Determined?
In Connecticut, the damages awarded in wrongful death cases are required by law to be “just compensation in accordance with the pecuniary injuries resulting from the death.” When a wrongful death case is being determined in court, the jury members that award damages for mental anguish are asked to consider the following:
- Relationship between the spouses or parent and child.
- Living arrangements of the families.
- Any absences for extended periods between the deceased and beneficiary.
- The harmony and common interests within family relations.
What Forms of Compensation Are Available?
The wrongful death statute says just damages, which may include the deprivation of enjoyment of life activities, pain and suffering, loss of income, and conscious pain and suffering prior to death, may be recovered by the estate. Other entitlements may include compensation for necessary nursing, medical and hospital services, and reasonable funeral and burial expenses.
Who Can Pursue a Wrongful Death Claim?
In cases of proven wrongful death, the surviving spouse, their children, and even parents of the deceased are entitled to compensation. However, the executor or administrator of the deceased family member’s estate is the only one who can file suit. This is the personal representative responsible for closing out the victim’s estate now that he or she has passed.
In cases where the deceased did not name a personal representative in their will or estate plan, or simply did not make any estate plan or will whatsoever, the court then appoints someone to act as the administrator. In cases of conscious pain and suffering, personal injury, and expenses that happened as a result of the death of the family member, the personal representative must also be the one who requests that damages be awarded to the surviving family members.
What Qualifies As Wrongful Death?
Losing a beloved family member is painful and difficult, but their passing does not automatically qualify as a case of wrongful death. The following elements must be present before you consider bringing a wrongful death suit forward:
- The death of a person was caused by another’s negligence, or they intended to cause the victim harm.
- The victim’s death caused the surviving family members injustice and monetary suffering.
- A personal representative of the victim’s estate has been established.
Also, a wrongful death claim may result from fatalities arising from circumstances that include medical malpractice, automobile or airplane crashes, occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals and conditions, criminal activities, and supervised activities.
How Do You Prove a Wrongful Death?
Pursuing wrongful death cases is part of a civil lawsuit, and the estate must prove the following:
- The deceased did not cause their own death.
- The death of the loved one was caused by another’s deliberate acts, negligence, or recklessness.
- That the surviving family has measurable damages associated with the loved one’s death. In other words, they have suffered emotionally, financially and mentally.
Also, it is important to consider that unless the deceased would have had grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit, their family members cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit. Consider the four elements that must equally be present to move a wrongful death case forward:
- Duty of Care – You must prove that the defendant owed duty of care to the deceased such as being a responsible driver while they were a passenger in their car.
- Breach of Duty – Next, breach of duty must be established. For instance, a driver must not drive another while they are inebriated. If they did and caused another’s injuries, they can be held responsible and accountable for damages because they breached their duty of care.
- Causation – Next, you must demonstrate the defendant was in breach of their duty of care and that the breach injured the other person. To explain, an inebriated person in breach of duty of care is not responsible if someone trips on a sidewalk a few blocks away.
- Damages – Lastly, the specified injury has to come with damages, including emotional damage, physical pain, or financial costs.
Wrongful Death Suits Often Follow Criminal Trials
Wrongful death lawsuits often take place after a criminal trial. One famous example is the one that took place after the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. If you recall, O.J. Simpson was acquitted in the murders of his ex-wife wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman in what is known as the ‘Trial of the Century.’
Victims of the families subsequently filed a civil suit against Simpson, and a civil court awarded the families $33.5 million judgment against him for their wrongful deaths. The different outcomes of both cases can be confusing because one court acquitted him while another found him liable. That’s because a wrongful death suit relies on the same set of facts and similar evidence as a criminal trial, but it requires a lower margin of proof.
Wrongful Death Case of UConn Student
If you live in the Constitution State and want to see a specific example of a wrongful death case and its outcome, you can look at a recent one that happened here that received national attention. That wrongful death case focused on University of Connecticut student, Jeffny Pally, who was accidentally struck and killed by a fire department driver in 2016.
Pally had been drinking and fell asleep in front of the fire department garage door when the driver of a fire department SUV struck and killed her. The driver, Dana Barrow, was exiting the building while responding to a call. Pally’s parents, Abraham and Shinymol Chemmarappally, brought forth a wrongful death lawsuit against the state, the fraternity that allegedly hosted the party where the UConn student drank the alcohol, and the fire department driver.
According to the Hartford Courant, the parents settled the wrongful death lawsuit against the state and the defendants involved, with the exception of Dana Barrow. A judge dismissed civil allegations against the fire department driver, clearing him of any criminal wrongdoing.
What is the Statute of Limitations?
In Connecticut, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of death. If you miss that timeframe, you lose the right to file it and will also miss any chance of recovering compensation. There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations, so it is a good idea to discuss that and other legal aspects of a wrongful death case with a professional attorney.
As mentioned before, nothing can make up for the loss of a beloved family member. But, filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Connecticut may help instill within you a sense of justice and allow you to recover fair compensation for damages caused by their passing. As you no doubt noticed, a wrongful death lawsuit can be extremely complex. However, the Moynahan Law Firm is well versed and known for our personal injury practice due to our reputation and advocating for the injured people and families of wrongful death victims. Our capable team will help walk you through the steps of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Connecticut. We care and will investigate to the full extent your wrongful death case, including claims for loss of consortium. Reach out today for a FREE case evaluation and to speak with one of Connecticut’s most respected personal injury lawyers.