A loved one’s death is always a tragedy, but it can be especially devastating when another person’s negligence or wrongdoing causes a loved one’s untimely passing. Unfortunately, you don’t have time to grieve properly as other questions begin to surface, like, “How am I going to pay for my deceased relative’s medical bills or their funeral costs or survive without their financial support?” and “Who is going to take care of my children now that their other parent is gone and they can’t provide them with emotional support?”
If your loved one died due to someone else’s wrongful, intentional, or criminal acts, you might be able to file a wrongful death claim in Kentucky. But you may wonder how to file a lawsuit. If the insurance company is willing to accept liability, you will probably be able to settle out of court. However, if the insurer denies liability or you can’t come to an agreement on damages, then you’ll likely need to submit a wrongful death suit.
Filing a lawsuit gives you and your family a path to justice and allows you to hold the at-fault party accountable for their negligence. It also provides a financial safety net as you grieve and begin rebuilding your life.
However, wrongful death lawsuits are complex, so it’s essential to understand the ins and outs before taking any legal action. Lexington wrongful death attorneys like the one at our law firm, Peterson Law Office, can be of assistance in helping you understand your rights and navigate the legal system. Our law firm has compiled answers to some of the most common questions about Lexington wrongful death cases, including who is eligible to file a lawsuit and what types of damages are available, to address your preliminary questions below.
How Does Kentucky Define Wrongful Death?
Under Kentucky law, wrongful deaths occur when an individual dies due to another person’s negligence or wrongdoing. Lexington wrongful death lawyers often refer to fatal accidents like these as preventable deaths.
Examples of Wrongful Death
There are many examples of what qualifies as a negligent act, but some examples are:
- Medical Malpractice: If a doctor or other medical professional makes a mistake during treatment of a patient, their actions may constitute medical malpractice. Nursing home abuse and neglect cases also generally fall into the category of medical malpractice cases. If those actions result in a patient’s demise, the family may be able to file a liability claim.
- Car Accidents: If a driver is texting, speeding, driving under the influence, or otherwise engaging in reckless behavior or a wrongful act, they can cause a fatal accident. Family members of victims of auto accidents may be able to file wrongful death claims to hold the responsible party or multiple parties involved liable for their loved ones’ untimely deaths.
- Workplace Accidents: If an employer fails to provide a safe working environment and an employee is killed, the family may be able to pursue a claim to seek compensation for their loss.
- Intentional Acts: A crime such as murder, assault, or any other criminal offense that results in a fatal injury constitutes an intentional act and may warrant the filing of a wrongful death claim.
How To Prove Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims and lawsuits are a type of personal injury action. To win a lawsuit in Lexington, KY, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s negligence or intentional misconduct was the cause of the untimely death.
However, negligence may be difficult to prove unless a plaintiff can establish the right elements. In other words, the plaintiff must meet the “burden of proof.”
Typically, plaintiffs must prove three main elements to win a Lexington wrongful death claim:
- Duty of care: The plaintiff must prove in court that the defendant, like a fellow motorist, for example, owed a duty of care toward the deceased person.
- Breach of duty of care: The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached that duty, usually by acting negligently, such as being a drunk driver.
- Causation: It is not enough for the plaintiff to demonstrate that the defendant violated a statute or met their obligation in another way. The plaintiff must also establish that defendant’s conduct directly caused the victim’s death.
Civil cases have a much lower burden of proof when compared to criminal ones. Wrongful death claims proven by establishing these elements may allow surviving close relatives of the decedent to seek compensation, including economic, noneconomic, and punitive damages.
Who Is Eligible to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky?
In Kentucky, only certain people can initiate a wrongful death claim or lawsuit filing, including:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased
- The children of the deceased
- The parents of the deceased
- Any other surviving family members who were financially dependent on the deceased
Suppose there is no surviving spouse, child, parent, or another family member financially dependent on the deceased. In that case, the personal representative could initiate a wrongful death claim filing on behalf of the estate. The personal representative is the executor or administrator and handles the deceased person’s estate.
Kentucky has basic requirements for who can be the executor in a wrongful death lawsuit, including that the personal representative must be:
- At least 18 years old unless the deceased’s will specifically names someone younger as the designated appointee.
- Of sound mind and not judged incapacitated by a court.
While some states bar anyone convicted of a felony from being the executor of someone’s estate, Kentucky doesn’t have such a rule in place.
There may be some exceptions to the above-referenced rules, such as if:
- A deadly weapon caused the death, the deceased’s person’s surviving spouse and children could bring the claim.
- The deceased person is a minor, the child’s parent can join the lawsuit filed by their personal representative.
Damages Are Available in a Lexington Wrongful Death Claim Case
As mentioned above, plaintiffs who file wrongful death lawsuits may be able to recover economic and noneconomic damages. The successful awarding of damages will compensate the estate and the remaining family members for their loss. For example, if you win your case in Lexington, KY, the court may award the damages as follows:
- The court will compensate the deceased person’s estate for funeral expenses, attorney fees, and administration costs.
- The surviving family members will receive the rest of the damages awarded to them by the court.
Once the estate’s debts are paid, what’s left passes to the person in the deceased’s will or the “heirs at law” if there isn’t a will. The types of damages a wrongfully deceased individual’s family can recover in a wrongful death lawsuit may include:
These are tangible costs associated with a person’s end-of-life care, inability to work, and death and may include:
- Medical expenses
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Loss of income and benefits as well as future lost earnings
These are intangible, yet consequential losses associated with the preventable death and may include:
- Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, society, and moral support
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish and emotional distress endured by surviving family members
These damages can be challenging to quantify. They may be calculated, in part, based on your deceased loved one’s anticipated life expectancy. The assistance of wrongful death attorneys like Peterson Law Office can come in handy to help you build evidence to establish how impactful your loved one’s untimely loss has been on your life.
Under Kentucky law, the court may award punitive damages for wrongful death in cases where the death was caused by gross negligence, wanton disregard, or malice. Punitive damages aren’t meant to compensate the family for their loss, but instead punish the at-fault party and hopefully prevent them or others from committing similar acts.
The Order in Which Family Members Receive Compensation
Kentucky law further specifies an order in which family members can receive financial compensation from the wrongful death case, which is:
- If there is a spouse but no children, the spouse can retain the full wrongful death settlement amount.
- If the deceased left a spouse and children, they split the awarded compensatory and punitive damages equally.
- If there are surviving children but no spouse, the children receive the entire award.
- If neither children nor a spouse is left behind, the deceased’s surviving parents can recover compensation in its entirety for themselves.
- The entire financial compensation award goes to the estate, which may be turned over by the personal representative to the state if no spouse, children, or parents survive.
As we mentioned before, wrongful death lawsuits can be a complex situation where several different laws and circumstances may come into play. This is why you must have an experienced wrongful death lawyer from Peterson Law Office by your side who can help you navigate the entire process and ensure that you are taking the best possible course of action to seek justice against the negligent party in your particular case.
While Lexington wrongful death attorneys can’t give you a particular dollar value you can expect, they can assess your deceased loved one’s medical bills, lost wages, burial expenses, as well as the future contributions they would have made to your family to reach a settlement amount to demand.
How Long Do I Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Kentucky?
In Kentucky, the statute of limitations, or time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, is one year from the date of death, meaning that you have one year from the day your loved one’s death occurred to file a lawsuit. If you miss this deadline, it will most likely bar you from ever bringing a wrongful death claim. However, one exception to the rule states that if a representative for the deceased is selected more than one year after the death, the provision changes to two years.
While one year may seem like a long time, it’s important to remember that a lot needs to happen before filing a wrongful death lawsuit. You will need to hire a Lexington wrongful death attorney to investigate what happened. It can take wrongful death attorneys some time to compile evidence and sort out liability in cases like this. So, it’s best to establish an attorney client relationship now so that your legal counsel can get started on your case as soon as possible.
How To Identify Lexington Wrongful Death Lawyers To Help You
It can be overwhelming sorting through the wealth of Lexington wrongful death attorneys when you try to find a law firm to handle your case. While one that has an office location nearby you and the scene of your family member’s death can be helpful, sitting down for a free consultation with a Lexington wrongful death lawyer to see if you can envision establishing a solid attorney client relationship with them is key.
After all, your loved one’s loss is a very sensitive matter, and you want to ensure the legal counsel you hire is going to prioritize and otherwise do what’s in the best interest of your case. Our team at Peterson Law Office can offer you that high-touch attention your case warrants.
When To Contact Your Local Kentucky Wrongful Death Lawyer
If you’ve recently lost an immediate family member in Lexington, KY and believe someone else’s negligence or misconduct caused their death, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Beginning a case needs to happen as early as possible after his or her death, so ensure you reach out to an attorney to get on their calendar for a free consultation right away.
While these cases can be complex, an experienced Lexington wrongful death attorney here at Peterson Law Office can help you navigate the legal process and fight for the justice and compensation you deserve after your loved one’s death. Contact our office to schedule a free consultation today to discuss your case.