Wrongful Death

The death of a family member is one of the most painful events we could ever experience. However, if a family member’s death is caused by the negligence of another, the anguish can seem insurmountable. Attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta understand how difficult this time can be and will be compassionate to your circumstances.

What Makes a Wrongful Death Case Unique?

Wrongful death situations are unique because family members tend to experience a heightened level of pain in comparison to deaths from natural causes. This is because the grieving process can become clouded with blame and animosity toward the responsible party. When such blame and animosity distorts your grieving process, you may be deprived of proper healing.

Another unique aspect of wrongful death cases involves the scenario where a loved one is injured and hospitalized, then dies at a later time as a result of those injuries. Similarly, a loved one may have died as a result of an extensive illness related to a toxic exposure. In these scenarios, compensation may be available for the injuries, damages, pain and suffering the victim experienced before death in addition to compensation for family members.

Who is liable? What are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?

When you contact attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta, we can evaluate the nature of your wrongful death claim. The success of a claim is dependent upon the extent to which the death was caused by the negligence of others. There are four elements of a negligence claim. Remember, the “Plaintiff” in a lawsuit is the injured party who is filing an action, or claim, against the Defendant. In a wrongful death case, the Plaintiffs may include the estate of someone who has died in addition to individual family members. The “Defendant”, sometimes referred to as the “Respondent”, is the party accused of causing the harm. The four elements of a negligence claim are:

Duty: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed a certain duty of care in the specific situation. The extent of the duty of care varies based upon the circumstances of each situation.

For example, employers have a duty to abide by all state and federal laws that regulate and provide for the safety of their employees.

Breach: The Plaintiff must show that the Defendant breached the duty of care that was required in that specific situation.

For example, if it is proven that an employer did not provide the proper safety equipment to an employee as required by either state or federal law, such oversight would be a breach of the employer’s duty to the employee.

Causation: The third element of a negligence claim is causation. The Plaintiff must prove that the Defendant’s breach of duty actually and proximately caused the Plaintiff’s damages, harm, injuries, loss or death. Evaluating actual and proximate causation can be a complicated task which requires the skills and knowledge of experienced attorneys.

Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact. Actual cause exists when the Defendant’s actions, or inactions, directly cause the Plaintiff’s harm. In determining actual cause, attorneys must implement the “but for” test: “But for (without) the Defendant’s actions, would the Plaintiff have been injured?” In other words, if the Defendant did not do what he did, would the Plaintiff have suffered the harm that was suffered? If the Plaintiff wouldn’t have suffered the harm without the Defendant’s actions, then actual cause has been established.

For example, if an employer did not provide an employee with the proper safety equipment, and as a result, the employee was injured and later died as a result of those injuries, the employer's actions may be the actual cause of your harm. Using the “but for” test, ask the following question: “But for (without) the employer depriving the employee of the proper safety equipment, would the death have occurred?" If the answer is that the death wouldn’t have occurred if the employer had provided the proper safety equipment, then we have established actual cause.

When determining proximate cause, courts will consider whether the Plaintiff’s injuries were foreseeable to the Defendant. If the Defendant’s actions set forth a chain of unforeseeable events that resulted in harm to the Plaintiff, then it may be established that the Defendant did not proximately cause the Plaintiff’s injuries.

Damages: The fourth element of a negligence claim is damages. Remember, in a wrongful death case, family members may seek damages for their losses in addition to damages that a loved one might have experienced before death.

What Types of Damages/Compensation are Available in Wrongful Death Cases?

If a loved one dies as a result of the negligence of another, and if you have a viable claim, attorneys Gary Rich and Matthew Gutta may seek multiple categories of damages to provide the compensation that you may be entitled to:

Compensatory Damages: Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the family for the cost of the injury or death of a loved one. Furthermore, there are two different types of compensatory damages, actual and general.

Actual compensatory damages can include funeral expenses and other expenses incurred prior to death such as property damage, lost income, lost employment wages, and medical expenses such as hospital bills, rehabilitation treatment, physical therapy, medical equipment, nursing home care, in-home care and prescription drug costs.

General compensatory damages can include pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium and future losses as a result of lower earning capacity and future medical care.

Punitive Damages: Although punitive damages will only be awarded in specific instances, punitive damages serve as a punishment to the Defendant. Furthermore, awarding such damages sends a message to others in society and in that respect, punitive damages serve as a deterrent for such negligent behavior. Although there is a high burden on the Plaintiff to prove punitive damages, such awards can be substantial in comparison to compensatory damages.

Steps to Take if You or a Loved One is Involved in an Accident That May Later Cause Death:

  1. Contact 911 immediately and seek assistance and medical treatment for all involved.
  2. Insofar as you are safely able to do so, identify the other parties involved and exchange information. Take as many photographs of the scene as possible. Take photographs from various angles. Photograph the surrounding area, debris, license and damage.
  3. Do not speak with an insurance company or provide any written statement to an insurance company without first talking to Rich & Gutta, PLLC.
  4. Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC, as soon as possible.
Why You Should Seek Medical Care Immediately?

Regardless of whether you sustain severe injuries or minor injuries, it is imperative that you seek medical treatment immediately after your accident. A doctor will properly evaluate your condition and check for internal injuries that might not be immediately apparent to you. Your doctor will then provide a medical report that will be essential in building your case.

Why You Should Call Rich & Gutta, PLLC Immediately?

Preservation of evidence is paramount. This means that time is of the essence and you need an experienced legal team to ensure that, among other things, witnesses are identified, medical and police records are obtained and other evidence is properly gathered. If a loved one has died as a result of the negligence of another, call Rich & Gutta, PLLC at (304) 924-7001.