The wrongful death of a loved one is always a tragic and sometimes an unexpected event. The loss of a husband, a wife, or family member has painful emotional consequences for the entire family. If a family member dies, although you can never replace them or put a monetary value on the loss of their love and affection, family members and the next of kin may be entitled to damages for their pecuniary loss. Pecuniary loss is a monetary value that includes not only lost wages and support, but also the advice, comfort, assistance, & protection which the family member would have given had they lived.
The surviving spouse and children may be entitled to recover damages for the loss of future earnings caused by the death of a spouse or parent. To determine a fair amount to provide for the future financial needs of a family, the deceased’s previous occupation, earnings, and health are considered. Other family members may recover damages for pecuniary loss based on their relationship with the deceased, and the guidance, comfort, assistance, and protection lost because of the wrongful death. Medical costs and funeral expenses are almost always recoverable in a claim for wrongful death.
What is the difference between a civil case and a criminal case against someone who caused a wrongful death?
A criminal case can only be brought by the government. The prosecutor makes a case against the person accused of a crime, seeking prison time or another punishment. The prosecutor must meet a higher standard of proof than in a civil case. A civil case can be filed by anyone whose private rights or civil rights have allegedly been violated by another party. When a private party files a civil lawsuit for wrongful death, the party is seeking monetary damages as compensation for the loss suffered. A civil trial for wrongful death, therefore, is very different from a criminal trial for murder or manslaughter.
Statutes of Limitations and the Discovery Rule
If you have experienced the loss of a loved one due to wrongful death, the last thing you may want to think about is how your legal rights are affected. The law surrounding wrongful death, however, allows legal action to be taken only for a limited period of time. When this period has elapsed, you will no longer have the option of filing a lawsuit. Attorney Chad B. McKay can answer your questions about how much time you have to take action.
What Is a Statute of Limitations?
A statute of limitations is a law that restricts the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. It helps to ensure that the legal process moves forward and that evidence is still available and fresh in the minds of witnesses. When the statute of limitations has run, there is no longer an entitlement to take legal action on a matter. This gives a serious responsibility to people who may wish to file a lawsuit.
What Is the Discovery Rule?
The discovery rule can affect when the statute of limitations begins to run. In some cases, an injury that caused a wrongful death was not apparent when it first occurred; this is usually due to the nature of the injury itself. The statute of limitations will begin, then, at the time the injury is discovered or reasonably should have been discovered.
Consider a statute of limitations that is, for instance, two years long. Normally, the clock would start ticking as soon as the injury occurred. But if the injury is reasonably discovered one year after it occurs, the two-year period begins on the day of discovery.
Not every state applies the discovery rule in the same way. How it is used also depends on the injury and other circumstances.
How Do the Statute of Limitations and the Discovery Rule Affect Wrongful Death Actions?
For most wrongful death cases, a state’s wrongful death statute sets out a simple time limit for taking legal action. The matter is more complicated, however, when it comes to injuries that call the discovery rule into play.
Sometimes, when a loved one suffers an injury, the injury may not become known for months or years after it occurs — perhaps not until it causes death. For example, in cases such as mesothelioma or asbestos poisoning, it can take up to 40 years for the effects to manifest themselves, but they are almost always fatal.
If an injury directly contributed to a death, the statute of limitations may begin at the time of injury or at the time of reasonable discovery. This could mean that the statute of limitations starts to run — and may even run out — before the death. This can occur, in particular, in products liability cases involving injuries caused by defective or dangerous products.
If you have recently lost a loved one due to another person’s wrongful or negligent act, contact Attorney Chad B. McKay at (801) 621-6021 for compassionate, capable legal service.
For more information about Utah’s wrongful death laws, click here.