Few things in life compare to receiving a phone call or visit telling you that a beloved family member died unexpectedly in some sort of accident. As you grieve, you might need answers to questions regarding the circumstances surrounding the death of your loved one. Those answers might lead you to wonder whether you have any legal recourse against the party or parties responsible.
Losing a loved one due to the negligence of another person often makes that loss even more difficult. You might need to know how you will achieve justice on behalf of your loved one and compensation for the financial losses that inevitably accompany it.
Seeking compensation and justice through the legal system
New Jersey law allows those who lose loved ones at the hands of another to file a wrongful death claim against the responsible parties. These claims arise out of numerous types of situations such as the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Airplane accidents
- Exposure to toxic chemicals or substances at work or elsewhere
- Inadequate supervision resulting in death
- Criminal behavior
Criminal actions could result from the actions of the party or parties believed responsible for your family member's death. This does not mean that you cannot file a civil action as well. You can file your claim regardless of how the criminal proceedings progress, or even if the legal system does not believe the actions that led to the death rise to the level of criminal activity.
Elements of a wrongful death claim
To file a wrongful death claim, you must show the court the following elements:
- The death of a person
- Negligence or someone's intent to harm the person
- Monetary losses because of the death
- Your representation of your loved one's estate
As the executor or personal representative, you file the appropriate civil actions. If you prove the above elements, the court may consider an award of damages.
One of the central parts of any damage award involves the financial losses associated with your tragedy. Some of those financial consequences include the following:
- Final medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost support
- Lost services
- Lost potential inheritances
Interest on the above damages could also be included in any award. In order to determine the amount of damages you may receive, the court considers the following factors relating to your loved one:
- Earning capacity
- Life expectancy
It might seem callous to include one or more of these factors. Unfortunately, when attempting to put a price on a life, it's necessary. Both the negative and positive aspects of each factor affect any final monetary award you might receive. The court may consider other types of damages as well.
Personal injury claims
In connection with a wrongful death claim, you might also file a "survival action" if the circumstances make it appropriate. This action involves the last moments, days or weeks of the life of your loved one. In such an action, the court considers the following relating to your loved one:
- Amount of pain
- Degree of consciousness
- Knowledge of impending death
You might be conflicted about seeking financial compensation for your loss, especially since his or her life ends up reduced to a monetary formula. However, in addition to any compensation you might receive, you could also gain a sense of justice on behalf of the person you lost. Not every death caused by another involves criminal prosecution, so this might constitute your only avenue for closure and justice.
As you can imagine, any court action can quickly become complicated. You might not know how to present your case, and you might not know how to calculate damages or even what damages you can seek. An experienced and compassionate attorney can assist and advise you throughout the process.