The Elements of a Successful Wrongful Death Claim

By Greg Kohn

If your close relative died because of a careless or intentional action of someone else, you might be wondering if you can hold the at-fault party accountable for taking the life of your loved one. Before embarking on legal action, it is prudent to evaluate whether you are likely to win your case.

You need to understand the elements of a successful wrongful death claim. A New Jersey wrongful death attorney can evaluate your situation and explain your legal rights.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim in New Jersey?

The term “wrongful death” refers to a situation in which someone dies before their time due to someone else’s fault. Dying from these causes is not wrongful death:

  • Natural causes 
  • Old age 
  • Self-inflicted act
  • An illness, accident, or injury that was not caused by someone else’s wrongful act.

The elements one has to prove to win a wrongful death claim include:

  • The person who died was a close family member or spouse.
  • Someone else caused the death.
  • The cause of death was a negligent or intentional wrongful act or failure to act.

Here are some examples of wrongful acts that could form the basis for a wrongful death claim if they cause someone else’s death:

  • Causing a motor vehicle accident due to speeding, distracted driving, driving while under the influence, road rage, or some other type of negligence.
  • Medical malpractice
  • Nursing home neglect or abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • A criminal act, like assault
  • A medication error in a pharmacy or hospital
  • A workplace accident
  • A defective product like an exploding airbag in a vehicle
  • A dangerous prescription drug or medical device 

These are only a few examples of situations that could give rise to a wrongful death claim. You will want to talk to your personal injury lawyer about your circumstances to find out if you qualify to take legal action for the death of your loved one. 

Can a Family Member File the Wrongful Death Case?

Sometimes, the people who can bring the legal action are not the people who can recover money damages for the loss of the person whose life ended because of wrongful death. Usually, the executor of the deceased person’s will or the administrator of the decedent’s estate (if the person did not have a valid will when they died) are allowed to file the wrongful death claim. Often, the executor or administrator are close family members.

Damages Recoverable in a Successful Wrongful Death Claim

New Jersey separates the legal action into two parts, the wrongful death claim for the heirs to recover their losses and the survivorship claim to pursue damages the injured person could have received if they had not died from their injuries.

The survival action can recover lost wages from the time of the accident until death, and the deceased person’s medical bills for treating the injuries from the time of the accident until death. Also, the survival action can seek damages for the pain and suffering the decedent experienced from the moment of the injury until death. 

New Jersey law allows the recovery of financial losses like funeral and burial, loss of the income of the deceased person, hospital bills after the death, and the value of the services the decedent provided for the family. The heirs can recover compensation for the loss of guidance, companionship, and affection, but not for the grief of the surviving family members. You will want to talk to a New Jersey personal injury attorney as soon as possible because New Jersey limits the time you have to take legal action on a wrongful death claim. Contact our office today for help, we offer a free consultation.

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.