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What Is Wrongful Death?

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No death is ever right, but a wrongful death is “the death of one caused by the wrongful act or omission of another,” according to Indiana law. Survivors of the deceased can seek damages through wrongful death lawsuits to cover certain losses and expenses after the death of their loved one.

Examples of Wrongful Death

What makes a death “wrongful”? Ultimately, it comes down to negligence of some kind.

This is why wrongful death cases often look like personal injury cases. Personal injury cases involve people who have been injured due to the negligence of someone else. For example, the injury can occur:

  • pain-sufferingIn a car accident
  • At a hospital
  • In a nursing home
  • On a slippery staircase
  • Due to dangerous drugs or devices
  • During childbirth

Similarly, wrongful death cases can involve:

The difference is, of course, that the victim of negligence has tragically passed away.

Wrongful Death vs. Murder Charges

Wrongful death lawsuits are civil cases, not criminal cases. Civil cases seek payment of damages, not incarceration on criminal charges. Personal representatives of the deceased handle wrongful death cases, while criminal prosecutors handle murder cases.

In some cases, if a murder trial does not find the defendant guilty, the plaintiffs may decide to file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court to seek damages. One of the most famous examples of this is the O.J. Simpson case: the state of California charged him with murder, but he was found not guilty in criminal court, so the family of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman filed a wrongful death lawsuit and received over $45 million in damages.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits: Who Can Receive Damages?

The person who has suffered injury due to negligence has, of course, passed away. So who can recover damages to pay for certain expenses in the wake of the person’s death?

According to Indiana law, those who can receive damages from a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • Parents
  • Spouses
  • Children
  • Other dependents of the deceased

Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within two years of the person’s death. The only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Indiana is the personal representative of the deceased.

Wrongful Death: Loss of an Adult

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Wrongful death lawsuits filed on behalf of adults without any dependents may seek the following damages:

  • Medical and hospital expenses
  • Funeral expenses
  • Burial expenses
  • Loss of the deceased person’s earnings
  • Loss of the adult person’s love and companionship

Plaintiffs may not seek:

  • Damages awarded for a person’s grief
  • Punitive damages

Wrongful Death: Loss of a Child

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Indiana law identifies a “child” as someone who is:

  • Less than 20 years old
  • Less than 23 years old and enrolled in a post-secondary school (college, trade school, etc.)

The term “child” may include a viable fetus.

If a child passes away due to the wrongful act or omission of another, the child’s parent(s) or guardian(s) can file a lawsuit. If the child’s parents are divorced, the lawsuit must be filed by the parent who has custody of the child.

Adult Wrongful Death Cap

If a person dies and has no spouse, dependents or children, the sum of total damages is capped at $300,000 in Indiana. That means that even if the expenses are higher for the family of the deceased, the family can only receive up to $300,000.

If more than one person is seeking damages—two siblings of the deceased, for example—then the court or the jury will determine the amounts awarded to each person.

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When to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

No death is ever right, and no family should ever have to deal with financial difficulties in addition to their grief when a loved one passes away. If your loved one passed away due to someone else’s negligence, a wrongful death lawsuit may ease some financial burdens after his or her passing.