There is no simple answer to what causes a wrongful death. The truth of the matter is that wrongful death can occur in numerous ways, whether through a personal injury, a work injury, or even a medical malpractice mishap.
At Wagner Reese, we understand that the death of a loved one is a difficult and sensitive subject, no matter how the death occurred. That is why we want to outline your options, educate you about the legal process in a wrongful death claim, and help you understand how much financial compensation you can expect as a result of the loss of your loved one.
Ultimately, you will want to contact an experienced Indianapolis wrongful death attorney to help you understand the unique factors that may affect you and your family’s potential case.
Our firm can be reached online or by phone at (888) 204-8440. We offer free consultations.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Indiana?
In the state of Indiana, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed by the legal representative of the deceased’s estate, which is most often their next of kin such as a spouse, adult child, parent, or sibling. The estate representative, called a personal representative or special administrator, is appointed by the court. Our firm starts each wrongful death case by preparing the necessary paperwork to file with the court. Regardless of who is appointed as a representative of the estate, it is important to understand that damages are awarded to the deceased person’s spouse, children, or, if there are no surviving children or a surviving spouse, to other relatives who may have been financially dependent on the deceased. In the case of an adult who dies with no spouse, minor children, or other dependents, damages may be awarded to parents or adult children.
“Wrongful death claims are unlike any other lawsuit; they’re often complicated and filled with emotion. We understand this all too well, having helped several Indiana families through a time of loss. Calling us to talk through your options can prove to be a first step toward healing.” –Stephen Wagner
If the deceased is a child, it is not necessary to open an estate. Instead, a wrongful death claim may be brought by either (or both) of the child’s parents. Oftentimes, the deceased child’s parents are no longer together. In that situation, either parent can file a wrongful death claim, but they are required to bring in the other parent as a party to the lawsuit.
Why File a Wrongful Death Case?
If you lose a loved one due to someone else’s negligence, there are both emotional and financial losses. The emotional damages are obvious. Although nothing can bring back your loved one, Indiana law allows recovery for loss of the love and affection of the deceased. From a financial standpoint, whether the deceased was the main breadwinner or contributed to maintaining the household, a wrongful death lawsuit can restore the financial security you had before the loss of your loved one.
For example, in one case we handled, a surviving wife filed a wrongful death claim for her husband who was killed on the job. She knew that without his income, and because she had been out of the workforce for many years while staying home to raise their children, her and her children’s lifestyles would be significantly altered. Not only this, but her children were left without their father at home, which left a gaping hole in their family (what the courts refer to as a loss of love and affection). With the money the family received from the settlement, they were able to pay off their house, make investments for college for the children, minimize their expenses, and afford quality childcare for the kids when the mother returned to the workforce.
In another case we handled, the adult children of an elderly father were left with devastating medical bills after an error caused their father to sustain injuries and a fatal infection in the hospital. The children filed a medical malpractice wrongful death suit against the hospital and were awarded damages sufficient to cover medical bills, burial expenses, and other costs incurred by their father’s death—expenses that they wouldn’t have incurred were it not for the hospital’s error.
Civil Damages & Caps on Damages
“Civil damages” is the technical term for the money you can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit. In the state of Indiana, some wrongful death claims have limits, or “caps,” on damages while others do not.
Here is a brief summary of which claims are subject to limits on damages and which are not:
- If the deceased was an adult and had a spouse or surviving children, there is no limit on damages and the amount is left up to a jury to decide based on the individual details of each case such as the medical bills incurred, amount of lost wages, etc.
- If the deceased was a child (under the age of 20 or under 23 if they are enrolled in college), there is also no limit on damages.
- If the deceased person was an adult (at least 23 years of age), unmarried, and had no minor children, non-economic damages are capped at $300,000. Reimbursement for last medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and attorney fees can be awarded in addition to the $300,000 limit.
- In medical malpractice cases, there is a cap of $1,250,000 applicable to all claims.
The exception to the above rules is in the case of filing a wrongful death suit against a government entity such as the state of Indiana, a city, town, or school. The cap for these cases is $700,000, regardless of the amount of medical bills, expenses, or attorney fees.
What Determines If a Death Was “Wrongful?”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are around 121,000 unintentional injury deaths in the United States each year (not including deaths that result from medical malpractice). That averages out to 39 deaths per 100,000 citizens. Wrongful death can result from almost any type of injury or illness. Simply put, if your loved one’s death was due to the wrongful actions of some other person, business, or the state, a wrongful death claim can be filed.
Medical Malpractice Wrongful Death
Incidents that lead to wrongful death in the medical field include surgical errors, missed diagnoses, and hospital-related infections. Ranking as the highest cause for wrongful death in our country, it is estimated that at least 210,000 people die each year because of a medical mistake.
Poor communication, over-tired doctors, understaffed hospitals, and many other factors contribute to the high number of deadly medical mistakes. The truth is, these errors are killing more people each year than drug abuse deaths and car accident deaths combined. While a hospital can be held liable for any preventable injury or death that occurs on their premises, the most likely way a wrongful death will occur in a hospital is at the hands of a doctor or nurse.
Personal Injury Wrongful Death
The most common types of personal injury wrongful deaths are those that result from car accidents, but a personal injury wrongful death is any death that occurs as a result of the fault or negligence of another party.
- A slip and fall injury that occurs in a retail store as the result of a spill or misplaced signage
- A drowning accident that occurs in a pool that is supposed to have a lifeguard but the lifeguard was not paying attention to their duties
- A death that results from a defective product
- A shooting death on the premises of a tavern which has a history of police calls and patron-on-patron violence
- A truck accident resulting from a tired truck driver who drives his big rig over the allowed hours
A personal injury death really can occur at any place, at any time.
Work-Related Wrongful Death
Although it’s the least common type of wrongful death accident, there are still nearly 5,000 people who lose their lives each year in a work-related accident. Often times, worker’s compensation is not enough to cover the surviving family members’ living expenses so they can maintain their lifestyle in the absence of their loved one. A wrongful death claim in these cases can help a family carry on, even without the ongoing income and support of their loved one.
Common causes of work-related wrongful deaths:
- Construction Accidents: Construction sites are among the most dangerous working environments. From the constant noise, heavy equipment and machinery, falling objects, high scaffolding, and more, construction work sites are where the most work-related deaths occur each year.
- Car or Truck Accidents: Whether driving a company vehicle, on a business trip or transporting goods in a semi-truck, any accident that is the fault of another party could result in a work-related wrongful death.
- Slip and Fall Accidents: Especially in industrial environments where there are chemical spills, these accidents frequently lead to traumatic brain injuries and death.
- Factory Accidents: Dangerous machinery in factories can lead to workplace deaths. Specifically, machinery such as conveyors can be dangerous if not maintained, guarded, or used properly.
Indiana work comp death benefits are among the lowest in the country, so work-related wrongful death lawsuits can often bridge the gap.
Types of Damages You May Recover
If you’ve lost a loved one due to one of these types of accidents, your biggest question may be, “What types of damages will my family recover in the process?” When you hire Wagner Reese, rest assured that we will comb through every detail of your case. We will fight to recover the maximum amount of damages allowed under the law.
Wrongful death damages can be awarded by juries in multiple categories, which include:
- Lost Financial Support: Was your loved one the primary financial provider in your home? Will your quality of life be dramatically altered without their income and financial support?
- Lost Household Services: Was the loved one you lost responsible for taking care of the household, the children, and other things for which you will now have to find replacement options?
- Loss of Parental Guidance: Are the survivors minors who are left without the guidance of a parent? How will this impact their choices, decisions, and quality of life?
- Loss of Love, Care, and Affection: Did you lose someone with whom you shared a large portion of your life? Someone whose loss leaves a hole in your life that you feel you will have trouble ever filling again?
- Medical Expenses: Was the death the result of a drawn-out medical process which caused you to incur medical bills you will struggle to pay?
- Funeral and Burial Expenses: Were you overwhelmed with and unprepared for funeral and burial costs in the wake of your loved one’s death?
- Lawyer Fees Related to Bringing the Lawsuit: You didn’t plan for this, yet are you finding yourself left to pay for things that weren’t your fault?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these above questions, Wagner Reese wants to help you with the next step in the process.
Free Wrongful Death Legal Consultations & No Upfront Fees Collected
Not only do we offer completely free consultations to all potential clients, but we also don’t collect any fees until your case has been settled or taken to a jury verdict.
If you’ve lost a loved one due to the negligence of another person, don’t wait. The statute of limitations on these cases is two years from the date of death. Emotional recovery, we understand, may take a lifetime. Financial recovery is something we can assist you with so you don’t have to struggle under the weight of debt on top of your other losses.
Call us today at (888) 204-8440 to schedule your free consultation with our wrongful death lawyers in Indianapolis.