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Frequently asked questions about wrongful death cases

Most people have heard the term "wrongful death" but don't have a good understanding of what that type of litigation actually entails. Below are some common questions.

Is it possible to sue for wrongful death of an elderly relative or a small child?

It is indeed possible, but don't expect a million dollar payout. The law bases the damage awards in part on the earning capacity of the deceased. As such, an elderly or very young person's death is not considered to be as economically valuable as someone in one's earning prime.

Can both civil and criminal cases result from the death?

That may be possible if someone is accused of a criminal act that led to the death. Not all cases of wrongful death rise to the level of criminality, however. But whether or not criminal charges or convictions are forthcoming, it does not affect the rights survivors have for pursuing civil justice.

What happens when people die before they are able to file a lawsuit for their injuries?

Here you have two scenarios. The first is when a person dies from complications from the injuries from an accident. The heirs may then pursue a claim of wrongful death. In the second scenario, if a person is hurt in an accident, and the case has not proscribed but he or she dies of a heart attack or something else unrelated to the injuries, the claim is considered to survive the person. At the point, either the person's executor or the personal representative appointed by the court is responsible for taking legal action.

Many more questions can arise from the circumstances of a wrongful death action. Turning to a legal professional for answers can help survivors decide how to proceed.

Source: Findlaw, "Wrongful Death FAQ," accessed Feb. 26, 2016

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