Has your loved one recently died as a result of an accident caused by another party’s negligence? Your family may be entitled to damages.
Kentucky state law clearly defines specific rules around wrongful death claims. Not everyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Read on to learn more about how a wrongful death claim may or may not be applicable to your situation.
What Is Wrongful Death?
It is important to first define what “wrongful death” means in Kentucky. A wrongful death is a preventable death resulting from someone’s negligence, misconduct, or wrongful act. The “someone” in this context can be a person, a company, or an organization.. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant is legally responsible for the victim’s death. Even if the victim did not pass away until after the original injuries, it may still be deemed a wrongful death.
By extension, eligible representatives can file a wrongful death claim in civil court. The lawsuit seeks to recover damages in the form of monetary compensation. This amount may cover medical bills, funeral expenses, lost income, damages for pain and suffering, and so on. You can think of a wrongful death claim as an extension of the personal injury claim the victim would have been eligible to file if they had not passed away.
A major difference between a wrongful death civil claim and a criminal prosecution (e.g., murder) is the level of proof needed. With the civil claim, the plaintiff only needs to show “a preponderance of evidence.” This means it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable. With a criminal murder charge, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Also, a civil case may end in monetary damages. A criminal case may result in jail or prison time.
Even if the defendant is found not guilty in the criminal case, they may still have to pay damages, sometimes even punitive damages, in the civil case. Both cases can occur at the same time.
Who Can File the Lawsuit?
In some other states, anyone from the victim’s family may put forward a wrongful death claim. The laws in Kentucky are different.
Here, only the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can file the claim. The personal representative is also called the executor. They may be named in the will. If there is no will, the court can appoint a personal representative. This is usually an immediate family member. The victim’s parents may join the personal representative if the victim was a minor. Also, if the death was caused by a deadly weapon, the surviving spouse or children may file a claim.
If you would like to file a wrongful death lawsuit but you are not the personal representative, you can still work with them to put the claim forward.
The Statute of Limitations
There are time limits for when you may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Kentucky. These time limits are called statutes of limitation. In Kentucky, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death case is:
- Within one year of the personal representative’s appointment, or
- Within two years of the victim’s death if the personal representative is not assigned within the first year of the person’s death
The case does not need to be resolved within these timeframes. You must simply file the lawsuit within those time limits. Your lawyer can help clarify any questions you may have. You must file the lawsuit within one of the above stated time frames or the case will be dismissed.
Examples of Possible Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims can arise through either negligent or intentional acts that result in the victim’s death. Examples of situations that can lead to a wrongful death may include:
- Car accident. The driver may be negligent or reckless, causing a fatal crash. The victim’s family can file a lawsuit against the driver or file a claim with their insurance company.
- Unsafe public place. If a property owner fails to maintain a safe environment for visitors, they may be liable for accidents that occur there. Were items not secured properly? Were hazards not suitably contained and managed?
- Defective product. Was a product designed or manufactured defectively? Did this defect contribute to the victim’s death? An example might be a defective appliance or tool. Safety mechanisms might be absent or functioning incorrectly.
- Criminal behavior. Whether the death is intentional or not, it may have arisen as the result of a criminal act. An example might be a home robbery where the victim was slain by the intruder.
Not all fatal accidents are eligible for wrongful death claims. You need to look at the specific circumstances of each case. An experienced attorney can best review your situation and assess your chances of a successful claim.
How Much Compensation Can I Expect?
There is no upper or lower limit to wrongful death lawsuits in Kentucky because the state has chosen not to set a cap on damages associated with this type of claim.
Since Kentucky doesn’t cap wrongful death damages, some cases may render multi-million dollar verdicts. Others may settle for much less.
Some damages and losses the plaintiff may pursue include:
- Related medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income
- Loss of financial support
- Administration costs
- Cost of future services
- Legal fees
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of companionship
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages
Many factors contribute to the final amount. An experienced attorney can work to help you get the fair compensation you and your family deserve.
Call Our Kentucky Wrongful Death Attorneys for a Free Consultation
The death of a loved one is never easy. The situation is further complicated in the case of wrongful death. The legal process can be confusing and complex. Call our offices today at (270) 351-4404 to schedule your free consultation. You can also complete our online contact form. The attorneys at Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson & Humphrey are here to guide you through your legal options during this difficult time.