Losing a loved one is devasting, especially if the loss is unexpected or due to someone else’s negligence. Surviving family members may be able to seek compensation for the emotional and financial stress they are experiencing if the loss was due to third party negligence. In this article, we will discuss what is legally considered a wrongful death, who can file a claim, when you must file, what will need to be proven, and the damages (compensation) available.
What Is Wrongful Death in Utah?
Under Utah Code 78B-3-106, wrongful death claims can be filed if the decedent’s death is caused by another person’s wrongful or negligent actions. Wrongful death suits can be borne out of instances including but not limited to:
- Car accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Intentional acts, such as crimes
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Wrongful death cases are personal injury claims that are brought forward by someone on behalf of the decedent. In Utah, wrongful death suits can be filed by the decedent’s heirs or a personal representative (or executor) of their estate. According to Utah Code 78B-3-105, heirs include the decedent’s:
- Natural or adoptive parents
- Stepchildren who are financially dependent upon the deceased and “are in the minority at the time of the decedent’s death”
If the decedent is not survived by any of the aforementioned “heirs,” then any blood relative can file suit. A decedent who is an adult under guardianship can have a claim brought forward by their legal guardian.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
You must file a wrongful death claim within two years of the decedent’s death (see Utah Code § 78B-2-30). Claims against government entities must be filed within a year of the death (Utah Code § 63G-7-402). These time limits are set by the statute of limitations.
If you file after the statute of limitations has already expired, your case will most likely be dismissed. However, exceptions can be made in instances where the cause of death is discovered after the statute concludes. For the “discovery rule” to apply, the filing party must prove that they did their due diligence to investigate the cause of death before the deadline. You should speak with our attorneys to see if your case applies.
What You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Suit
It is important to note that wrongful death suits are civil cases. Even if the defendant is facing criminal charges, the civil case has no bearing on the criminal prosecution, and the case results are independent of each other.
While criminal prosecutors must prove that the accused is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” wrongful death claims aim to prove the defendant’s liability and negligence “by a preponderance of evidence,” which simply means that it is more than likely (greater than a 50% chance) that the claim is true. In order to substantiate the claim, the plaintiff (filing party) must prove that:
- The defendant owed the decedent a duty of care.
- The defendant breached that duty of care.
- The defendant’s breach of care led to the decedent’s death.
Types of Damages Available
After winning your case, you can receive economic, non-economic, and/or punitive damages. Economic damages cover the costs of tangible expenses, such as funeral costs and/or medical expenses. Non-economic damages aim to compensate survivors for their pain and suffering, which factors in the loss of companionship or consortium and/or pain experienced at the time of death. Punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant’s actions were extremely reckless and negligent and are meant to punish the defendant.
Calculating the damages you are owed can be complex, and if you pursue your case without proper legal representation, insurance companies and/or opposing counsel will often offer you settlements that are well below what you are owed.
Get Legal Counsel Today
At Nelson, Taylor & Associates, we are dedicated to helping our clients work towards a positive case outcome. We offer effective, efficient legal representation, and our lawyers can help you:
- File your claim in civil court
- Investigate the cause of death
- Gather evidence that shows the defendant was reckless and/or negligence
- Understand your legal options and possible case outcomes
- Correctly calculate the damages you are owed
To learn more about our firm and how we can help you, contact (801) 901-7046 or reach out online.