Nothing is more difficult than abruptly and unexpectedly losing a loved one because someone else was reckless or negligent. If your family loses a loved one in this way, you should consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit with help from a Massachusetts wrongful death attorney.
What legally constitutes a “wrongful death” in Massachusetts? What legal recourse do the surviving family members of wrongful death victims have? Keep reading for the answers, because fatal car crashes and other deadly accidents happen far too frequently in this state.
You will also learn about the types of compensation that may be available to surviving family members through a wrongful death claim, and you’ll find out about the deadlines and strict time limits that have been established for wrongful death claims under Massachusetts law.
How is “Wrongful Death” Defined in Massachusetts
Wrongful death is clearly defined in Massachusetts, and it does not matter if the death happened in a traffic collision, in an incident of medical malpractice, or because a property owner failed to keep a property free from hazards.
Massachusetts law holds that an individual or a business may have liability for a wrongful death when that individual or business causes another person’s death by:
- acting negligently and/or failing to use reasonable care
- committing a “willful, wanton or reckless act”
- breaching a warranty
In any of these circumstances, a wrongful death claim may be pursued if the decedent could have pursued a personal injury claim arising from the incident, if he or she had survived. Of course, in wrongful death cases, another party must bring the claim on the decedent’s behalf.
What Does It Take to Prevail With a Wrongful Death Claim?
Most wrongful death claims are resolved privately by the attorneys for both sides with negotiated, out-of-court settlements, but when a wrongful death lawsuit goes to trial, it is handled very much like a personal injury case.
The “plaintiff” – the party bringing the wrongful death claim – must prove the same “elements of the case” that personal injury plaintiffs have to prove in personal injury cases:
- The defendant (the party presumably at-fault) had a “duty of care” to the victim.
- The duty was breached by the defendant’s reckless or negligent behavior.
- The reckless or negligent behavior was a direct cause of the wrongful death.
- Thus, the defendant should pay the decedent’s family fair and reasonable compensation.
Who Has Standing to Bring a Claim for Wrongful Death?
Massachusetts law allows only the “executor or administrator of the deceased” to bring a wrongful death action. That is the person named in the decedent’s will to pay the estate’s debts, distribute the remaining assets, and close the estate – usually a spouse, sibling, or adult child.
In Massachusetts, any compensation recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit is paid first to the decedent’s estate and then distributed to surviving family members.
The survivors of a wrongful death deserve high-quality, effective legal representation. A good wrongful death lawyer will fight aggressively for the compensation – as well as for the justice – that your family may need.
What Damages May Be Recovered With a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Families who have lost a loved one because of another party’s reckless or negligent behavior have every right to pursue a wrongful death claim. Surviving family members who prevail with a wrongful death action may recover compensation for:
- projected lost future earnings the decedent could be reasonably expected to have earned
- comfort, guidance, care, advice, and companionship the decedent would have provided
- reasonable burial and funeral costs
Punitive damages – damages awarded not as compensation but as punishment to the defendant – are rarely awarded in wrongful death cases, and only if a Massachusetts court determines that the death was the result of gross negligence or “malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct.”
In What Situations Are Wrongful Death Claims Disallowed?
Under Massachusetts law, a wrongful death claim may not be brought against:
- the employer of an employee who died on the job
- a railroad when the decedent died in an accident on or near the train tracks
- a streetcar company when the decedent died on or near the tracks at a spot where the tracks do not intersect a sidewalk or roadway
However, surviving family members may have other options for compensation in these circumstances. When an employee dies on the job, for example, workers’ compensation in Massachusetts provides death benefits to the decedent’s dependents.
How Quickly Do Family Members Need to Act?
Grief can be overwhelming when you have suddenly lost a beloved family member, but that is precisely the time when your family’s future and their needs must be seriously and soberly considered.
No amount of money can truly compensate you for the sudden, preventable loss of a loved one. However, a wrongful death lawsuit will help a decedent’s family avoid the financial hardships that a family may face after a family member’s loss.
The statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is three years in Massachusetts, but you cannot wait that long to speak with a Massachusetts wrongful death lawyer. Your lawyer should examine the evidence while it’s fresh and speak to any witnesses before their memories fade.
Although it may be difficult at a time of grief, it is important to have the advice, guidance, and services of the right Massachusetts wrongful death attorney as quickly as possible.
What Will It Cost Your Family to Seek Justice?
Even if the death is considered a homicide and charges are filed in criminal court, your family may still be able to recover monetary damages with a civil wrongful death claim. Your attorney will provide personalized advice about your case and your family’s rights and options.
What will it cost your family to seek justice after a family member’s wrongful death? Wrongful death lawyers in Massachusetts offer a first legal consultation with no cost or obligation, so it costs nothing to speak to a lawyer and learn more about your family’s right to recover damages.
If you proceed with a wrongful death lawsuit, no attorney’s fee is paid until and unless a settlement or verdict is obtained. This gives any and every Massachusetts family that needs justice the ability to seek that justice after a family member’s wrongful death.
Your wrongful death lawyer will be sensitive to your emotions but will act aggressively and effectively on your family’s behalf. If you lose a loved one in a case of wrongful death in Massachusetts, arrange as quickly as possible to speak with a wrongful death lawyer.