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The deceased’s surviving relatives, dependents, or beneficiaries may bring suit against those claimed to have been responsible, seeking monetary damages to compensate for the losses. Each state has its own statute covering the viability of claims for wrongful death, and not every state follows the same guidelines, principles, or rules. At Creed and Creed, we can advise you on whether you have a valid wrongful death claim and can help you pursue that claim to the best possible outcome.
Laws on Wrongful Death Resulting from Personal Injuries Vary from State to State. Some states have “true” wrongful death acts in which the next of kin are entitled to bring a cause of action in their own names as a result of damages sustained following the decedent’s death. Other states have acts that are more properly called “survival acts,” which preserve the rights that vested in the decedent at the moment of death, expand those rights to include the right of the survivors to bring a claim based on the decedent’s rights, and include claims for damages resulting from the actual death itself.
In most jurisdictions, including Louisiana, in order to be legally liable in a wrongful death claim, it is not necessary that the defendant’s conduct be the sole cause of the death. Even when the defendant’s negligence contributes in part, or in tandem with other circumstances, to the decedent’s death, liability may still attach. Generally, a wrongful death cause of action can arise out of any tort theory, including an intentional tort, reckless or negligent behavior, or strict liability.
When a defendant is found legally liable for the death of another, the types of damages that may be recovered can also vary greatly. For example, the plaintiffs may be able to recover the costs of the deceased’s medical care and treatment related to the negligent conduct, the funeral expenses incurred for the deceased’s burial, the loss of future earnings of the deceased, the value of the loss of the deceased’s benefits (such as pension benefits or medical and health insurance coverage), the value of the loss of consortium, and general damages.
When a loved one dies, the complexities of a legal claim against the wrongdoer can be overwhelming. At this already stressful and emotion-laden time, the best course of action is to seek the guidance of an experienced personal injury attorney with experience handling wrongful death cases, who can guide surviving family members through the complex legal maze and help secure compensation for their devastating losses. The method and manner of calculating damages in a wrongful death action can be very complex. This potential complexity is especially true when trying to calculate the pecuniary loss to which the plaintiff’s are entitled. Pecuniary loss generally includes the survivor’s loss of support, contributions, and services due to the decedent’s death. The bases for computing these damages are the decedent’s life expectancy and work life expectancy. The life expectancy of the beneficiaries and, where necessary, the remaining period of minority of any beneficiaries must be considered. In calculating the value of the survivors’ future loss, not only may the wages of the decedent be considered but the court may also consider the value of past contributions made by the decedent, the decedent’s familial concern, his personal habits, and his spending behavior.
In cases where there is more than one beneficiary, the damages recovered will be distributed between those beneficiaries. Most states allocate the damages between the beneficiaries in accordance with their losses. However, in some states the recovery is divided as spelled out in statute, and in others divided according to normal intestacy laws within the state.