When an accident ultimately results in death, the victim's estate can bring a lawsuit for wrongful death. Although the circumstances giving rise to the suit are generally similar to those in a personal injury case, wrongful death cases have some important differences.
Wrongful death cases can arise from various types of accidents. Common examples include medical malpractice, car crashes and nursing home negligence. In any such case, the plaintiff must show the defendant acted negligently by failing to meet a duty of care owed to the deceased.
How long do you have to file?
The statute of limitations puts a restriction on how much time plaintiffs have to file a case in court. Usually, the filing must occur within two years from the date of death or within two years from the date it transpires the death was due to negligence.
Who can file?
In Ohio, the victim's surviving family does not act as the plaintiff in a wrongful death suit. Rather, the estate's personal representative files the suit. The decedent's will may appoint the representative. If it fails to do so, the probate court will step in and appoint someone, who may be a member of the family.
What damages are compensable?
Several types of damages may be available in a wrongful death case. The estate can recover compensation for medical and funeral expenses. Other damages include the decedent's likely future financial and personal contributions to the household, the loss of his or her company and guidance, emotional pain of the survivors and reduction in potential inheritance. If the victim did not die immediately from the injury, damages may be available for his or her pain and suffering as well.
Who gets the damages?
If the lawsuit succeeds, the damages award goes to surviving family members. The general rule is that the relatives entitled to a share of the damages are the same relatives who would inherit under Ohio's intestacy provisions. Thus, spouses and children are first, along with parents. Other dependents may also recover if they show they have sustained damages.