Where the actions or negligence of a person causes the death of another, criminal law and procedure are mainly concerned with punishing the offender. In the course of punishing the offender, there is little consideration for the deceased’s surviving relatives. However, outside of the criminal justice system, these relatives may obtain compensation from the offender in a wrongful death suit.
The American legal system is designed so that the different states have their laws on various legal issues. So, the law’s position on the significant elements of a wrongful death suit discussed in this article will be as it applies in the state of Indiana.
What is Wrongful Death?
Wrongful death in Indiana involves a situation where a person causes another’s death by their wrongful act or omission. From this definition, a person can cause wrongful death through negligent, careless, or reckless actions. The intentional acts of this person could also cause death.
Death is “wrongful” in this scenario because the other party could have easily prevented it. Wrongful death could occur through the following:
- Car accidents
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Work/factory accidents
- Unsafe premises
- Medical malpractice
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?
In Indiana, not everyone can file a wrongful death suit. The decedent’s representatives can file the case. The personal representatives could be the surviving spouse, dependent children, or a dependent next of kin.
For a child, the suit may be brought by the parents, jointly or separately. If they are divorced, the parent having custody can file the lawsuit. Furthermore, a guardian can also sue for the wrongful death of the ward. However, a parent or grandparent who abandoned the child cannot sue for that child’s wrongful death. Also, where a person having custody of a child is deceased, a personal representative shall be appointed to maintain the child’s wrongful death suit.
Elements of a Wrongful Death Suit
Below we explain four vital factors to prove to win a wrongful death suit.
- The death of a human being. A wrongful death claim is predicated on a human being’s death because of another person’s actions or inactions. So, without proof of death, you cannot file a suit.
- The deceased must have died because of another person’s negligence or intentional action.
- There are surviving family members suffering monetary losses because of the death.
- The person filing the lawsuit may have to prove his/her inclusion in the class of persons who have the right to do so.
Standard of Proof in a Wrongful Death Suit
A wrongful death suit is a civil claim. So, the standard of proof is lower than what applies in a criminal trial. In a wrongful death suit, proof of facts claimed is on the preponderance of the evidence. We mean that the court will listen to both parties’ arguments and rule in favor of the party whose claim is more probable. So, it is not out of place for the prosecution to lose its case against the offender because it could not prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, while a wrongful death suit on the same facts succeeds.
Recoverable Compensation for Claimants of Successful Wrongful Death
Compensation for any pecuniary losses suffered by the relatives of the wrongfully deceased in Indiana is primarily determined by the decedent’s status and their relationship with their surviving relatives. The court will usually compensate the decedent’s estate for hospital and medical expenses and the deceased’s funeral and burial expenses. Following this, the deceased’s estate must apply these expenses for these specific bills. The court can also award damages for loss of love and companionship. Compensation for the “grief, pain and suffering” of the relatives or punitive damages are generally not recoverable. Meanwhile, the plaintiffs can always recover the fees of their attorney.
Indiana law caps recoverable damage at $300,000 for unmarried adults. However, the judge may not advise the jury of this limit. So, if the jury awards a higher amount, the court will cap it at $300,000.
Additionally, for children, their parents can recover compensation for the loss of the child’s services. Furthermore, the court may also compensate the parent(s) or minor sibling(s) for any psychiatric and psychological counseling expenses incurred by the child’s death.
Time Limitation: Get Legal Professional Help Fast!
Your right to sue for the wrongful death of your relative is time-bound. It doesn’t exist forever, so you must act fast. According to Indiana law, you must file a wrongful death suit within two (2) years of the decedent’s death. So, it would be best to contact an Indiana wrongful death lawyer early enough to preserve and explore your right to sue.