A loved one’s death is among the most devastating events a person and family might ever have to face. When another person’s negligence caused the death, the anger and feelings of betrayal might be almost impossible to process.
There is no bringing a loved one back, but if someone was responsible for causing the death, it might be possible to hold them accountable. Families could receive damages to compensate for losing their loved one’s current and future financial contributions. If the loved one survived for a time after his or her injuries, it might be possible to bring a suit seeking compensation for their pain and suffering before their death (commonly called a survival action).
A personal injury attorney guides a family through the difficult process of deciding how to proceed. The time to take legal action is limited, so it is wise to seek professional advice as soon after your loved one’s death as possible.
In legal jargon, a person who dies is a “decedent”. If the decedent has a will at the time of his or her death, it usually names an executor to carry out the decedent’s final wishes. This person is often a spouse or a child, but it could be anyone the decedent chose. If there is no will, a court will name an administrator to represent the estate.
The estate’s administrator or executor brings a wrongful death lawsuit or a survival lawsuit, according to New Jersey General and Permanent Statutes §2A:31-1. As noted above, the estate’s legal representative could be a spouse, child, or another family member, but their ability to bring a post-death action rests on their appointment as the estate’s legal representative, not on their familial relationship to the decedent. An attorney could help a family understand who is responsible for bringing a wrongful death suit on their behalf.
Damages in a wrongful death action compensate heirs for the loss of the decedent’s current or future financial contribution to their wellbeing. This includes the value of the decedent’s work as well as the economic value of their contributions to the family.
A demand for damages in the case of a decedent who had a full-time job with benefits might include:
Damages are shared among the people who would normally share in a person’s estate, and a legal professional could explain who those people are in a particular case. In general, the people entitled to receive damages from a wrongful death action are the decedent’s surviving spouse and children, if any. If the decedent had none, then the surviving parents receive the award from a wrongful death action. If neither spouse, child, nor parents survived the decedent, the award would be distributed to siblings, nieces, and/or nephews.
A survival action seeks compensation for the suffering a decedent went through before their death. Like a wrongful death action, the estate’s administrator or executor brings the lawsuit. However, a survival action is brought on behalf of a decedent’s estate, unlike a wrongful death action, which is brought on behalf of the decedent’s heirs.
Damages in a survival action include compensation for the decedent’s pain, suffering, disability, impairment, loss of enjoyment of life, and lost wages for the period between the decedent’s injury and their death. It is also possible to seek compensation for medical expenses and funeral expenses in a survival action.
In contrast to damages for wrongful death, damages from a survival action are paid into the estate, not directly to the decedent’s heirs. Thus, if the estate has debts, the damages might be used to settle them. Remaining damages from a survival action are distributed to the decedent’s heirs in accordance with the will, or according to New Jersey intestacy statutes, if the decedent did not have a will. A lawyer could help identify the recipients in a specific case.
One way to find peace after a family member’s death is to seek justice from the people whose wrongdoing contributed to it. Money cannot make up for the enormous loss, but it can offer some closure and a modicum of financial security.
The laws governing wrongful death and survival lawsuits are complex, and pursuing these claims successfully requires a high degree of competence and expertise. Call on a New Brunswick wrongful death lawyer to handle your family’s claim. The law requires families to act quickly when seeking damages after a loved one’s death, so call today.