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Can a Business Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

Can a Business Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim is a lawsuit that’s brought when someone dies because of the negligence of the defendant or their intentional actions. A wrongful death claim is brought by someone’s estate or the relatives of the person who died. The lawsuit is against the party legally liable for the death. There are varying wrongful death laws in each state, but they’re usually fairly similar overall.

An individual can be the defendant of a wrongful death suit, but what business owners often wonder is whether their business itself can be sued in this case. The answer is yes. There are plenty of situations where individuals take on small and large businesses in wrongful death situations, and often they win.

When you own a business, it’s your duty to protect the well-being and safety of your employees, your customers, and society. When you fail in this duty, there could be a lawsuit brought against your business.

Below, we go into what you should generally know about wrongful death cases and specific scenarios where your business could end up being sued.

How Does a Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

A wrongful death lawsuit is where the victim would have otherwise had a valid personal injury claim because of the defendant’s wrongful actions. However, since the victim died, they can’t bring a personal injury claim. A representative of the victim’s estate usually files the wrongful death claim on behalf of survivors’ relationships with the victim.

Who exactly can bring a lawsuit forward depends on the state where you live. In every state, a spouse can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of their deceased spouse. If you’re the parent of a minor, you can also bring this type of lawsuit, and minors can do the same if they have a parent who dies.

Where states vary from one another is if parents of adult children are allowed to sue and whether adult children can sue for the wrongful death of a parent. Other areas that tend to differ between states include whether grown siblings or extended relatives can sue for wrongful death. The further down the familial relationship, the harder it would be to file a wrongful death suit.

Examples when a situation could allow for a wrongful death lawsuit include:

  • An intentional killing: If someone murders another person, then along with the criminal case, there may also be a valid wrongful death claim. A wrongful death case in this situation is entirely separate from the criminal case.
  • Medical malpractice: If a doctor doesn’t properly diagnose or treat a condition leading to the death of your loved one, or the health care provider is negligent in their actions and your family member dies because of that, then there might be the opportunity to bring a wrongful death lawsuit.
  • Car accidents: Probably one of the most common reasons for wrongful death lawsuits brought against defendants is car accidents. If the person who caused the accident was negligent when they were driving, then there may be an applicable wrongful death lawsuit. Not obeying traffic laws, driving recklessly, and driving while intoxicated are all examples.

What Are the Elements in a Wrongful Death Claim?

There have to be a few key elements present for a wrongful death lawsuit. First, the death of someone has to have been caused by negligence or another person’s intentional harm to the deceased individual. There have to be death-related monetary injuries that the surviving family members have to deal with, and the third element is that a personal representative for the decedent’s estate has to be appointed.

There is a statute of limitations, but in wrongful death claims, you might be able to file a lawsuit after this time ends if there’s an investigation that doesn’t conclude within that time.

Suing a Business for Wrongful Death

Some examples when your business could be sued for wrongful death include:

  • Car accidents: A wrongful death claim could be brought against a business if a car’s defective parts led to an accident-related death. Another example would be suing a bar or restaurant if a visibly intoxicated person left that location and then caused a motor vehicle death. As a business owner, you might be sued if your employee is in an accident that kills someone.
  • Premises liability: As a property owner, you have the responsibility to protect the safety of everyone who comes to your premises. If someone dies because your business has unsafe property conditions, you may be legally responsible, but not always.
  • Medical malpractice: A medical malpractice suit is typically filed against a single health care provider, but in some cases, the healthcare business might be responsible.

If you have an employee who dies because of a workplace injury, typically, their estate representative can’t bring a lawsuit against your business. That’s because worker’s compensation should cover this situation. Worker’s compensation will provide financial relief to dependents, but it prevents them from bringing forth a lawsuit. There are a few exceptions to this, such as if the employer showed extreme negligence or intent to harm your employee.

Other examples of parties that can be sued for wrongful death include the designer or builder of a roadway deemed to be faulty, a government agent who didn’t provide warnings regarding a roadway hazard, or a person who gave alcohol to an impaired driver, even if they don’t own the premises where the alcohol was served.

Wrongful death damages can include the pain and suffering of the deceased person before their death, medical treatment costs, funeral and burial costs, and the deceased person’s expected lost income. Other damages in a wrongful death case include the value of services provided by the deceased, the loss of love and companionship, and the loss of care and nurturing that would have been provided by the deceased person.

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by Brian Perry // Brian Perry is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.