Losing a close family member is often one of the most heartbreaking events in one's life. When this tragedy is a result of another person's failure to act properly, Ohio law provides recourse by allowing close relatives to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Prevailing in a wrongful death action can bring much-needed closure to family members. In addition, the loss of a family member can cause damage that goes beyond the emotional. A sudden lack of earnings or services can place a disastrous financial burden on a grieving family. Finally, this type of action serves a useful purpose for society by deterring careless behavior. Companies and individuals who see others take a deep hit are motivated to increase their safety precautions.
Who can sue
Ohio law restricts potential wrongful death plaintiffs to immediate family members of the deceased. The law assumes that spouses, children and parents suffer a direct loss from the death. Other family members who wish to sue may need to prove their direct loss to the court before they can proceed with a lawsuit. The deadline to file is two years from the day the death happened, so it is important to speak to counsel well in advance and deal with potential roadblocks well before the statute of limitations expires.
Basis for suing
A wrongful death case typically stems from the same types of accidents that often result in personal injury suits when the outcome is not fatal. In certain areas of life, a negligent mistake bears an increased risk of a serious, potentially fatal result. These may include medical malpractice, prescription mistakes, motor vehicle and airplane accidents, house fires and exposure to toxic materials. Whatever the specific context of the accident, a plaintiff must prove wrongdoing, whether criminal or negligent.
In some cases, plaintiffs file wrongful death suits based on deliberate, criminal conduct. In this type of scenario, a criminal prosecution may or may not proceed. In criminal court, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction. On the other hand, a civil action demands a much lower threshold. Thus, a jury in a criminal trial may find the accused not guilty of manslaughter or murder charges. A jury hearing a wrongful death case based on the same facts can still find civil liability and award damages to the plaintiff.
A person suing for wrongful death may recover several types of damages. Financial damages include loss of future earnings by the deceased, loss of future inheritance and loss of services. A plaintiff can also recover for emotional harm, including pain and suffering from the death and the loss of the loved one's company. Anyone who has lost a loved one to negligence or purposeful wrongdoing should consult an experienced attorney about available options.