Money cannot bring back a loved one who died because of someone else’s actions, but it can help with the costs of medical bills and funeral expenses. While families grieving a loved one may not be thinking about filing a lawsuit right away, a wrongful death attorney can help bring the family closure, especially if the lost loved one was a child.
What Is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death action is a civil lawsuit against the person or entity that caused a person’s death. A wrongful death lawsuit may be based on any tortious injury that caused the death, including:
- Battery: When one person intentionally touches another person and kills them, such as hitting someone with a baseball bat, or running them over with a vehicle.
- Trespass: Generally, trespassing on the victim’s property would not actually cause their death. However, a trespasser may be on the victim’s property with the intent to cause them harm or even to kill them.
- False imprisonment: If holding a person against their will leads to their death, the victim’s family may bring a wrongful death action against the person who imprisoned them.
- Negligence: This would apply if the person who caused the victim’s death had a legal duty to care for them, but failed in that duty, and the victim died as a result.
- Negligence per se: This would apply if something in someone else’s control caused the victim’s death, even though that person did not directly do anything to harm the victim. For example, if someone who owns a dog they know is dangerous does not keep the dog under control, and the dog kills the victim.
- Product liability: If a defective or malfunctioning product causes a person’s death and a court finds that the manufacturer was negligent in creating the product or that the seller was responsible for the malfunction, the victim’s family may be able to recover compensation from the product’s manufacturer and/or the seller.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Under Indiana law, a deceased person’s personal representative (the person who was assigned to execute their will or otherwise distribute their property upon their death to their estate’s beneficiaries) may file a wrongful death lawsuit. A parent, spouse or child of the deceased person may also bring a wrongful death lawsuit. If the personal representative brings the lawsuit, any money awarded in the lawsuit goes into the deceased person’s estate, and the personal representative distributes the money amongst the deceased person’s beneficiaries.
How Soon Must a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Be Filed?
The victim’s family and personal representative have up to two years after the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, it is always better to file the lawsuit sooner rather than later. Evidence is best collected as soon as possible so that it doesn’t get lost or become harder to find. Additionally, the sooner any witnesses in the wrongful death lawsuit are asked to testify, the better they will be able to recall the details of the incident that caused the death.
What Damages Are Available?
In Indiana, damages for wrongful death lawsuits can include the following:
- Medical expenses;
- Hospital expenses;
- Funeral expenses;
- Burial expenses;
- Loss of love and companionship; and
- Lost earnings due to the victim’s death.
The Indiana statute that outlines these possible forms of recovery does not limit damages to these types, but it does state that courts cannot award punitive damages or damages for grief.
If the deceased person left no next of kin, any damages go to:
- The hospital that treated their last illness or injury;
- To the funeral director; and/or
- To the personal representative as compensation for administering the estate.
What Is the Cap on Wrongful Death Lawsuit Damages?
Indiana has a cap of $3000,000 in damages for wrongful death lawsuits, but a jury may not be told about the cap. If the jury awards more than $300,000, the court will reduce that part of the award to $300,000.
Who May Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit on Behalf of a Child?
Because a child most likely doesn’t have a will or property to distribute when they die, Indian law allows a broader set of people to bring a wrongful death lawsuit on a child’s behalf than on an adult’s behalf. These people include:
- The mother and father together;
- Either parent as long as they name the other parent in the lawsuit;
- If the parents are divorced, the parent who has custody of the child;
- The child’s legal guardian; or
- The custodial parent or guardian’s personal representative if the custodial parent or guardian has also died.
Who Is Considered a Child in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Indiana law defines a child as someone under 20 years of age or someone who is under 23 years of age and who is enrolled in post-secondary school or a technical college. This definition also includes a viable fetus.
What Damages Are Available for the Wrongful Death of a Child?
Damages available for the wrongful death of a child can include:
- The loss of the child’s services;
- The loss of the love and companionship the child provided;
- The child’s hospitalization and health care expenses due to the event or action (or lack of action) that caused their death;
- Funeral expenses;
- Burial expenses;
- Reasonable psychiatric and/or psychological counseling for minor siblings and surviving parents of the child to deal with the death of the child;
- Any uninsured debts of the child, including any debts that a parent co-signed; and
- The cost to administer the child’s estate.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys Today
Our law firm often handles wrongful death lawsuits on a contingency basis, which means our clients don’t pay anything unless they are awarded damages.
If your loved one died as a result of another person or entity’s actions, contact The Law Office of William W. Hurst at (317) 636-0808 to schedule a free consultation.