Wrongful Death Frequently Asked Questions

1.  Who qualifies as an heir?

According to Utah Code Section 78B-3-105, the spouse, children, parents (whether biological or adoptive), dependent stepchildren, or other surviving blood relatives (in the unlikely event that all of the aforementioned are deceased) of the decedent may file a wrongful death claim in Utah. Each heir can have a claim, but only one lawsuit can be brought on behalf of all legal heirs.

2.  When can I file a wrongful death claim?

With the exception of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits, which can be claimed at any time, you must wait 45 days to claim relief for a wrongful death. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death is 2 years. However, there are times when extensions may be granted, as when the claimant was not of legal age when the death occurred, or when it could not reasonably have been discovered that the death was caused by negligence until after the fact. If you are not sure whether your case warrants an extension, you have only to gain by consulting with a personal injury attorney.  It is also important to note that in some circumstances, including, but not limited to wrongful deaths involving government agencies or medical malpractice, a formal notice of claim must be filed with the proper agency within 1 year of the cause of death or the claim will be permanently dismissed.

3.  How do I begin?

To start your claim, you will need to declare your intentions to your insurer. Then you will want to gather all the necessary documentation—death certificate, any evidence of negligence, etc.—to assemble your claim. In some cases, there may be a personal injury claim already in motion that you will be able to pick up. Otherwise, you and any other heirs can start afresh. (The compensation award will be shared among the heirs, so filing jointly could be beneficial)

4.  What types of damages can I be compensated for?

The damages you can be compensated for include medical costs, lost wages and/or earning capacity (if the death resulted as the eventual result of an injury), pain and suffering, attorney fees, and any costs that are the direct consequence of the wrongful death.

5.  Can heirs file separately?

Yes, but there is little reason for them to do so. The presumptive personal representative represents the interests of all the decedent’s heirs, and the allotment of damages is not likely to favor the person who files a separate claim. Even minor heirs who cannot legally file a claim may be included in joint claims, but until the court approves the distribution of proceeds and appoints a conservator for the minor heirs, no more than 50% of the award may be disseminated.

6.  Who can I hold responsible for a wrongful death?

Depending on the situation, many parties can be held responsible. In a car accident, another driver may be held to account for reckless driving, the city for failure to maintain the road, an automobile manufacturer for releasing a faulty product, etc. In workplace accidents that occur when the wrongdoer is on duty, his employer may be liable, as well. While one’s own insurance coverage and compensation from a single wrongdoer are often sufficient to cover accident costs, there are often other avenues available when that is not the case.

7.  How is the amount of compensation calculated?

The compensation to be awarded varies from case to case. The best way to find how much you can expect from a wrongful death claim is to talk to a personal injury attorney.

8.  Is the amount of compensation awarded on public record?

If the claim was settled or arbitrated, the amount awarded for compensation can remain private. However, if the case goes to court and is settled by litigation, it becomes part of the state record.

9.  What happens if the wrongdoer dies during the course of the claim?

The claim survives. Personal representatives of either the wrongdoer or the victims may continue the case between estates. The victims of a wrongful death are not deprived of compensation by the death of the at-fault party.

10.  Is there a difference between murder and wrongful death?

Yes, although the two sometimes share some common ground. A murder is a criminal act, whereas death caused by the negligence or wrongful acts of another is not necessarily motivated by malice or greed. Civil damages may be awarded to the heirs of the decedent in either case, although negligent acts do not usually call for criminal charges unless they are egregious. To learn about wrongful death claims and to see how we have helped others who have lost loved one, visit our Wrongful Death article or see examples of cases we have won.

Image courtesy of geralt. The image is in the Public Domain.

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