- May 1, 2023
- Wrongful Death
Handling the death of a loved one can be extremely difficult. This is especially true when someone else's negligence caused your loved one's death. Their careless or reckless behavior may have stolen years of life from someone you love.
You are likely dealing with significant grief but also the stress of everything that has changed because of a wrongful death. Many people face financial hardship, loss of income, and even high funeral costs due to accident.
This article will help you understand what qualifies as a wrongful death lawsuit in Michigan. You are going through a difficult time, but wrongful death law may help you win compensation.
What is Considered a Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death lawsuits are meant for the surviving family members of a person killed in an accident. The negligence or carelessness of others usually causes these accidents. Victims cannot fight for themselves, but their family members can seek compensation to help repair some of the damage done in the accident.
The Michigan Wrongful Death Act requires that the personal representative of the estate file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative is often a family member or other person named in a will or other legal document to handle the affairs of the decedent's estate. If no personal representative is named or there is no will, the court may select a family member as the personal representative.
Who Is Entitled to Wrongful Death Compensation?
Under Michigan law, while the personal representative files the wrongful death lawsuit, particular family members are usually owed the compensation that is won. These include family members such as, but not always limited to:
- A surviving spouse
- Children and stepchildren
- Surviving parents
- Surviving grandparents
- Other descendants if no others above survive.
Anyone named in the decedent's will may also be eligible for wrongful death compensation, depending on the contents of the will. Who may receive wrongful death benefits may depend on several factors, including who is named in the will and what family members survive the decedent.
Causes of Wrongful Death in Michigan
A person's negligence usually causes a person's unfortunate death. This negligence can lead to a serious accident that may lead to the death of a beloved family member. Common causes of wrongful death include:
- Medical malpractice
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Premises liability
- Slip and fall accidents
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents
- Motorcycle accidents.
These potential causes and many others may be why you lost a family member. When this occurs, you likely face financial hardship and a great deal of emotional trauma. A wrongful death lawsuit sought compensation for these losses and others when the accident was another party's fault.
How Do You Prove Wrongful Death?
To prove a wrongful death lawsuit, you must prove certain elements. To win the case, you must prove that the at-fault defendant was both negligent and liable for the decedent's death. The legal standard is "by a preponderance of the evidence."
This means that the jury must be convinced that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the decedent's death. Said another way, the plaintiff must convince the jury by at least 51% that their version of events is correct.
To prove a wrongful death claim, you must show each of the following elements:
- Duty of Care: The defendant had a legal duty of care to avoid the type of harm caused.
- Breach of Duty of Care: The defendant breached their duty of care through their wrongful or negligent act.
- Causation: The defendant's breach of that duty was the cause of your loved one's untimely death.
- Damages: You and your family suffered losses from the decedent's death.
Even in cases where fault is obvious, you will likely face significant pushback from defendants who want to avoid paying. Insurance companies may deny coverage, and there may be complicated evidentiary issues in the case as well.
What Evidence is Used to Prove a Wrongful Death Case?
You and your attorney will work together to gather evidence and investigate the cause of your loved one's death. Evidence that may be used to prove a wrongful death case includes, but is not limited to:
- Testimony of witnesses who saw the accident occur
- Video or audio recordings of the accident
- Expert reports and reconstructions
- Medical evidence and doctor testimony
- Family member testimony about the impact the death has had
- Economic experts to determine financial losses from the death.
These are just a few examples of the evidence that can be used to prove your Michigan wrongful death case. A thorough investigation of your unique claim can help reveal the evidence you need to prove your wrongful death action in court or to win a favorable settlement.
Impact of a Criminal Case on a Civil Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In certain situations, the death of your loved one may result in criminal charges against the person that caused their death. For example, assume a driver has twice the legal limit of alcohol in their blood and gets behind the wheel. Their intoxication makes them dangerous on the road, and they cause your loved one's death in an accident. The prosecutor may file criminal charges against that person for drunk driving and causing your loved one's death.
If the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty in the criminal case for causing the other person's death, this may be helpful evidence in a civil wrongful death trial. But the criminal case is entirely separate from the civil claim. A civil claim seeks financial compensation, while the criminal case seeks to punish a lawbreaker. However, because the burden of proof in criminal cases is "beyond a reasonable doubt," the guilty finding may be useful as evidence in the civil trial.
In appropriate situations, the criminal finding of fault helps to establish the duty, breach, and causation elements of the civil claim. When this applies will depend on the facts of your individual case and how the criminal case concluded.
Damages Available in a Successful Wrongful Death Claim
A wrongful death claim seeks financial compensation for the surviving family members. This compensation can be incredibly helpful and repair the damage done by your loved one's loss. No amount of compensation will repair the heartbreak you feel, but it can help alleviate the financial and emotional toll it has taken on your family.
Compensation available in a successful Michigan wrongful death claim may include:
- Funeral expenses
- Burial expenses
- Hospital and medical expenses incurred before the decedent's death
- Physical or emotional pain suffered by the decedent before their death
- Loss of companionship and support
- Loss of society
- Loss of financial support (lost income and earning capacity)
- Pain and suffering.
These damages are available in a successful Michigan wrongful death case. These forms of compensation may help your family alleviate your financial concerns and help you recover.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Michigan?
The personal representative of the decedent's estate may file the wrongful death claim. The personal representative is an individual that is usually named in the will. If there is no will, the court selects a personal representative. The personal representative can hire an attorney to help file the claim.
Unlike many other states, Michigan does not permit the surviving family members to file the wrongful death claim. However, it is often the case that a person entitled to wrongful death proceeds is also named as the personal representative for the estate. This is not uncommon. A consultation with an attorney may help sort out any questions you have about this situation.
Is There a Time Limit to File My Wrongful Death Claim?
Yes, there is a time limit by which you must file a wrongful death claim in Michigan. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Michigan is three years from the date your loved one passed away. If you fail to file within this timeframe, your claim could be dismissed because it was filed late.
Certain exceptions may apply that "toll" the statute of limitations from running. This toll is essentially a pause for a certain amount of time. Exceptions in wrongful death cases are rare, but you should always discuss your unique facts with an attorney. However, the best course of action is to begin your case immediately. Delay may violate the statute of limitations. Even if it does not, you could lose vital evidence to the passage of time.
Schedule Your Free Consultation with a Michigan Wrongful Death Attorney
At Goodman Acker, P.C., we want to ensure you receive the compensation you are owed in a wrongful death case. We have decades of experience handling these cases and know the best ways to pursue financial compensation in your case. We take what you are going through seriously and will treat you with compassion throughout the process.
Schedule your free consultation with a Michigan wrongful death lawyer today. We are ready to help you seek the compensation you deserve after the loss of your loved one. Call us today at 248-286-8100.