There are certain elements of a wrongful death claim that must be present to have a successful claim. Find out what they are and who can sue in this article.
Death is an inevitable part of life. Everyone gets to die at some point, be it by illness or some other factors that most people term “natural occurrences.” People could also die because of their carelessness, as often seen in an automobile accident, whether single or involving two or more vehicles.
No matter how a person dies, death is painful as it is final. However, it is worse when someone’s negligent actions kill another person. Such a demise often results in financial hardship for the deceased person’s family and emotional and mental pain. Thankfully, Massachusetts law recognizes this hardship and pain and allows the victim’s family to commence a civil action known as a wrongful death lawsuit.
This article delves into the elements of a wrongful death claim in Boston and examines compensation options. If you lose a loved one because of another person’s negligent conduct, contact our Boston wrongful death attorneys at Michael Kelly Injury Lawyers immediately.
What Actions Give Rise to Wrongful Death Claims in Boston?
There are three ways a wrongful death action arises in Boston, Massachusetts. They are:
- Negligence-Based Accident: It covers situations when a person with a duty of care fails to uphold it and engages in an act that causes an accident. Motor vehicle accidents, premise liability cases, defective products, construction site accidents, etc. are all negligent based.
- Medical Malpractice: A medical malpractice claim arises where a healthcare provider fails in their legal duty by falling short of the standard of care. Common examples of cases that give rise to this action are birth injuries, misdiagnosis, premature discharge leading to premature death, surgical errors, etc. In 2018, medical malpractice was the third leading cause of death in the United States. Hence, the onus is on healthcare providers to maintain reasonable diligence always.
- Intentional Act: An intentional conduct is where the responsible party sets out to harm the victim. Not only will such a person face a criminal charge, but the law also allows the deceased person’s legal beneficiaries to seek monetary damages.
Under Massachusetts law, a wrongful death claim can only exist where the victim had the right to file a personal injury claim had they lived. It means that where the decedent was at fault for the incident that caused their death, their statutory beneficiaries cannot take action against the other person involved.
So suppose driver A ran a red light. Then driver B, who had the right of way, struck driver A’s car, and driver A died. Driver A’s estate representatives cannot seek compensation from driver B as the accident would not have happened if not for driver A actions. Massachusetts contributory negligence law also bars such claims. Learn more about this from our wrongful death attorneys.
Can I Always File a Wrongful Death Claim in Boston, Massachusetts?
Massachusetts wrongful death law bars claimants from filing claims against certain individuals and entities. As a result, you cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit against:
- An employer when an employee dies in a workplace or work-related accident
- A railroad if the person dies in an accident while on or near the train tracks
- A streetcar company where the person died in an accident near or on the tracks at a point where there is no established railroad crossing
However, note that there could be some remedies available to you despite this law. Speak with an experienced lawyer to know your options.
What Are the Elements of Wrongful Death Under Massachusetts Law?
Each state in the U.S. has a wrongful death statute. That of Massachusetts is the Massachusetts General Laws Annotated Chapter 229 Section 2. The law states that wrongful death is caused by negligence, willful, wanton or reckless conduct, or breach of warranty.
Summarily, a valid wrongful death claim exists where an injured person dies because of the legal fault of another person or entity. The elements of a wrongful death action are:
- Ordinary negligence (this gets you compensatory damages)
- Failure to exercise reasonable care or uphold the standard of care
- A malicious, willful, wanton, or reckless act or gross negligence (this gets you punitive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit), or
- A breach of warranty (It is the violation of an express or implied contract of warranty, and thus it is a breach of contract. In other words, it occurs when the warrantor fails to provide the assurance warranted. If such breach causes death, the product manufacturer would be liable to pay financial compensation to the decedent’s family).
Therefore the presence of one or more of the above elements is enough to seek wrongful death settlements. However, recognizing these elements on your own might be challenging. So consult Boston wrongful death lawyers.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Action in Boston, Massachusetts?
Some states allow the family members of a deceased person to file a wrongful death claim. However, things are different in Massachusetts. Under the state’s law, only the estate administrator or executor can file a wrongful death claim. The estate representative is the person named in the deceased person’s will or appointed by the court if the person had no will.
What Damages Can You Claim in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Generally, the legal beneficiaries of a deceased person get economic and non-economic damages for their loss. The two would typically cover the cost of medical care and other medical expenses, emotional distress, mental anguish, etc. In Boston, Massachusetts, the decedent’s survivors are entitled to:
- The income the person could have been reasonably expected to earn in their lifetime
- The services, protection, and assistance the deceased could have provided their survivors
- The care, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice the deceased would have offered their family members, and
- Reasonable funeral and burial expenses.
In addition, the trial court may award damages for “conscious suffering” the victim experienced because of an illness or physical injury that caused the death. Any money awarded for suffering does not go to relatives but becomes part of the deceased person’s estate.
Furthermore, the court may award punitive damages. But they only do this if they find evidence of malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct or gross negligence. Again, the burden of proving this is on the plaintiff, that is, the victim’s representative. Note that punitive damages, unlike economic and non-economic damages, are not meant to compensate the victim’s family. Instead, they punish the defendant and deter others from engaging in such conduct.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Any action commenced in civil courts is subject to the Statute of Limitations laws of Massachusetts. The Statute of Limitations stipulates the time limit a person must commence a civil or criminal proceeding. Once the time elapses, the victim will be unable to seek redress in court if in a civil case.
Under Massachusetts law, you have three years to commence a wrongful death case. The time starts running from:
- The date of the person’s death, or
- The date the estate executor or administrator knew or should have known they have a wrongful death claim.
Most litigants are unaware of the Statute of Limitations affecting their case, so they find themselves commencing an action too late. You can avoid this by working with a Boston wrongful death lawyer.
What Are the Elements of Proof in a Wrongful Death Action?
To win any civil claim, you need to establish the element of proof or negligence. As mentioned earlier, the burden of proof is on the person seeking compensation, and they do this on the preponderance of the evidence. The latter is a lesser burden than proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases.
So, your attorney needs to show the following elements of proof:
- Duty of Care: The law imposes a duty of care on certain individuals in specific circumstances. A duty of care exists between drivers and other road users, doctors and patients, product manufacturers and consumers, etc. What’s expected here is reasonable care, and what it amounts to varies from case to case.
- Breach: A breach exists where the defendant was not reasonably prudent in their actions. Thus, a driver who drinks and drives or a product manufacturer who failed to warn consumers of a defect with their goods would have breached their duty of care.
- Causation: The defendant’s action must have significantly contributed to or caused the event that took the victim’s life. So, even if there was evidence of a breach, there is no causation if you cannot link it with the victim’s death. For example, suppose a doctor made a surgical error. But a congenital heart disease was the root cause of the patient’s death, the doctor won’t be liable. Liability comes in if the mistake worsened the condition and ultimately caused death.
- Damages: The victim’s family or estate must have suffered damages due to their demise. Losses are essential because, without loss, there can be no compensation. So, you need to show the impact of the decedent’s death on your life.
Book a Free Consultation With Michael Kelly Injury Lawyers
Did you lose a loved one in an incident they did not cause or contribute to? If you did, the legal team at Michael Kelly Injury Lawyers could help you get justice. To us, you are a real person who suffered a painful loss, so we’ll do all we can to protect your rights. Book a consultation with us today to learn how we can help.