The death of a loved one can be devastating. In addition to the emotional turmoil that comes from the loss, medical bills, and funeral expenses can be overwhelming. If your loved one worked to help provide for your family, it may become a struggle to cope with life’s demands on a reduced income. When the death of a loved one is the result of someone else’s fault (i.e., a wrongful death), you have legal options.
Under the law, you can claim compensation for financial losses and emotional suffering caused by the wrongful death of a family member. Such cases are complex and can be lengthy. Representation by a law firm experienced in wrongful death cases is essential. Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson Attorneys at Law is one of the leading wrongful death law firms in Utah.
Contact us online or call us today at (801) 901-3470 to schedule a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable wrongful death attorneys in Salt Lake City.
Bringing a Wrongful Death Claim
In Utah, wrongful death claims usually must be brought within two years from the date of death, although there are some exceptions that may shorten or lengthen this time period. A personal representative may bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the heirs, or the heirs may bring the claim themselves. A personal representative is someone—usually an heir—who is appointed by the court to handle the financial affairs of the person who died. The wrongful death heirs in Utah are the surviving spouse, children (including minor stepchildren who were primarily financially dependent on the person who died), and parents. If none of these people are alive, then certain other blood relatives may be heirs. If a loved one has died because of someone else’s fault, an experienced wrongful death attorney in Salt Lake City can prepare and file the paperwork necessary to get the court to appoint a personal representative. Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson Attorneys at Law regularly do this for our clients without charging any additional fees.
A wrongful death may occur as a result of a:
- Trucking accident
- Car accident
- Dangerous product
- Medical malpractice
- Construction accident
- Other fatal accident
What kind of damages can I recover from a wrongful death lawsuit?
In Utah, a successful wrongful death suit can compensate you for any economic or non-economic losses related to the death. These are called compensatory damages and may include:
- Premortem medical bills
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Lost wages
- Future wages
- Any potential benefits or inheritance the deceased would have left behind
- Pain and suffering endured by surviving family members
- Loss of care, companionship, and guidance
- And more
If the defendant’s behavior was particularly egregious, intentional, or reckless, your suit may lead to punitive damages. For example, if someone fatally injured your loved one while driving under the influence, the court may award punitive damages to punish the drunk driver and discourage instances of drinking and driving in the future. Unlike a criminal fine, however, punitive damages go directly to the plaintiff to provide them with a personal sense of justice, financial comfort, and peace of mind.
Aren’t untimely deaths typically handled in criminal court?
Yes and no. When someone dies as a result of someone else’s behavior, the responsible party may face both criminal charges and civil liability, or they may face just one or the other.
In some cases, such as tragic accidents, the wrongdoer will not be charged with a crime but will face consequences in civil court alone. In others, like “intentional torts,” the wrongdoer may be tried and convicted, then held civilly liable if the victim’s family wishes to pursue a wrongful death suit.
If someone is convicted of a crime, civil liability is much easier to prove. Occasionally, someone who causes a death is found “not guilty” of a criminal offense but is found liable for wrongful death. This is because civil cases have a lower burden of proof than criminal cases. If someone is charged with murder or negligent homicide, for example, the prosecution will have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant is guilty. When someone faces liability for wrongful death, the plaintiff must only show that the defendant is liable by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This means if there is a 51% chance that the plaintiff’s claim is true, then the defendant can be found liable and ordered to pay monetary damages.
What if the deceased didn’t have or had never held a job?
You may have noticed that many of the damages available in wrongful death cases have to do with income. Fortunately, the court recognizes that not all contributions a person makes in their lifetime are strictly economic. If your mother or father was a homemaker, for example, and they were killed in a car accident, your family would still be entitled to damages. A stay-at-home parent contributes domestic services, guidance, and nurturing to the family. When these contributions are translated to measurable, monetary terms, they are called “pecuniary losses,” and they may justify damages in a wrongful death suit.
Similarly, wrongful death actions can be brought after the death of a child or retired senior. Unfortunately, their earning potential is speculative or minimal, so damage awards are usually more modest. Nevertheless, if you have lost someone, you deserve to be compensated for both the economic and non-economic losses you suffer from each and every day.
What is a survival action?
Survival actions are described in Section 78B-4-107 of the Utah Judicial Code. Essentially, if your loved one lived with the consequences of the wrongdoer’s behavior before dying, you may be able to recover damages for the pain, suffering, and losses they endured before their death. When someone dies, their personal injury claim does not die with them and can be awarded to their estate.
Survival actions are about the deceased, and not about their family members or any grief resulting from their death. As a result, any survival action you wish to pursue must be filed separately from your wrongful death lawsuit.
To explore your options and get answers to case-specific questions, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation with our firm.
Eisenberg, Cutt, Kendell & Olson Attorneys at Law has successfully represented countless families and heirs of fatal accident victims. With a hand-picked group chosen from of some of the nation’s leading medical experts, engineers, accident specialists, and other professionals, our wrongful death lawyers work to build the strongest case possible. Our lawyers have the resources and ability to get results in these cases and will work to obtain full compensation and justice for you.
Call (801) 901-3470 or contact our law firm online to arrange for a free consultation with a skilled Salt Lake City wrongful death attorney.