If you have lost a loved one due to the neglect of another party, you may be able to bring a wrongful death suit forward and claim damages related to final medical expenses, funeral costs, and loss of your loved one. To prove that wrongful death occurred, you must be able to establish that the defendant’s conduct caused the death of your loved one, but you don’t necessarily have to prove that the defendant was exclusively responsible for the death.
In some situations, the death may be only partly related to negligence. Although the specifics vary from case to case, you may be able to bring a successful claim forward even if other elements contributed to the death. Have questions? Here’s what you need to know.
Defenses in Wrongful Death Claims
There are a variety of defenses that can be used to fight a wrongful death suit. Some defendants may argue you’re past the statute of limitations. To avoid that, you should contact us for a free case evaluation as soon as possible so that you don’t miss any critical deadlines. In other cases, the defendant may argue that their actions were not connected to the injury that led to the death at all, and again, you need a quality attorney who is experienced with wrongful death cases to help you address that issue.
Beyond that, the defendant’s legal team may argue that the deceased was partly responsible for the death. This is called comparative negligence or imputed comparative negligence. Even if your loved one was partially responsible, the defendant may still bear liability and may still be required to pay out a settlement.
Comparative negligence is when the injured or deceased party contributes to their injuries or death. For example, if the victim was jogging in the street at night without reflective clothing and they were hit and killed by a vehicle, the judge may determine that the jogger partially contributed to the accident. Similarly, if someone slips, suffers a serious injury, and dies, the property owner may be liable for the death, but if the victim didn’t exercise reasonable caution, they may bear some of the responsibility for the accident as well.
Fifty years or so ago, if a defendant could prove that a personal injury plaintiff contributed in any way, however slight, to the accident that caused their death or injuries, then the plaintiff was not entitled to any compensation at all. Today, however, most states — including Massachusetts and New Hampshire —have adopted comparative negligence laws. Now, the judge or jury considers evidence and assigns blame to one or both parties using a percentage basis. This arrangement results in greater fairness to all parties.
Settlements Based on Comparative Negligence
For example, Massachusetts uses a 51% comparative negligence rule. This means that if the defendant is responsible for at least 51% of the death, they are responsible for paying a settlement. However, the settlement is reduced by the percentage of the victim’s contribution to the situation. For example, if the victim is found to be 20% responsible for the accident, their settlement is reduced by 20%. In this situation, if the victim was awarded $500,000, their award would be reduced by $100,000, and they would receive $400,000.
When comparative negligence is involved, it becomes more important than ever to have a quality lawyer in your corner. They can firmly establish the amount of the damages, which helps to increase the amount of the original claim. Then, once you apply the reduction, you still end up with a relatively fair settlement.
Imputed Comparative Negligence
Imputed comparative negligence rarely comes into play. Typically, this rule applies when the beneficiary has a special relationship with the defendant and the liability can be imputed from the defendant to the beneficiary. In these situations, the beneficiary may be barred from bringing forward a wrongful death claim.
As you can see, there are many ins and outs to wrongful death claims. Even if you know your loved one’s death was partly caused by their own actions, you should still consider bringing forward a wrongful death lawsuit. To learn more, contact us today to set up a no-cost case evaluation. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have experience fighting wrongful death claims, and we understand how to move forward confidently even when comparative or imputed negligence is involved.