Understanding New Jersey’s Wrongful Death Statute
No loss can compare to the death of a loved one. Whatever the circumstances may be, your whole life can turn upside down when someone you hold dear passes away unexpectedly. The emotional impact can be devastating, and family finances are often thrown into disarray, as well. If someone you love tragically passed away as a result of someone else’s negligent or wrongful conduct, you may be entitled to file a wrongful death claim or lawsuit and seek monetary compensation for your damages.
“Wrongful death” is a legal doctrine that allows certain family members to seek compensation when a loved one dies as a result of someone else’s negligence. It is a civil lawsuit rather than a criminal charge, and it provides grieving family members an important avenue for recourse and support following a sudden loss.
At The Law Offices Of James C. DeZao, P.A., we understand how painful these cases are—and just how important they can be to those left behind. We put our years of experience to work for you and your family so that this painful time isn’t more difficult than it needs to be. Our New Jersey wrongful death lawyers can meet with you to explain how the law applies to your loved one’s estate, what is required to proceed, and what you stand to recover. We will devote our time and attention to the case so that you can focus on what matters most: healing and spending time with your loved ones.
When Is a Death Considered “Wrongful?”
The state of New Jersey defines “wrongful death” as the death of an individual resulting from “a wrongful act, neglect, or default.” This includes fatal negligence-based accidents and incidents, as well as medical malpractice and intentional acts of violence, including crimes.
Ordinarily, only an injured person is eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey. But when a person dies as a result of an accident or the negligence of another, they are unable to file a lawsuit. Therefore, the family surviving family members—or the estate representatives—are permitted to bring legal action on behalf of the person who died, also known as the “decedent.”
Common Causes of Wrongful Deaths
Wrongful death cases often arise from the following types of events:
- Motor vehicle accidents, including car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, etc.
- Distracted driving- and drunk driving-related motor vehicle collisions
- Falls, including slip, trip, and fall accidents and falls from heights
- Assault, battery, homicide, murder, and other violent criminal acts
- Bicycle accidents and pedestrian accidents
- Construction accidents, such as explosions and serious falls
- Workplace accidents and work-related injuries, medical conditions, and occupational diseases
- Dog bites and other animal attacks, particularly instances involving children
- Police brutality and other civil rights violations
- Unsafe property conditions or hazards
- Defective products
The goal of wrongful death claims is to compensate family members who have suffered emotionally and monetarily as a result of their loss. After all, children, spouses, and even parents often rely on income, love, and other kinds of support from loved ones. When that support becomes unavailable because of someone else’s negligence, those family members are entitled to compensation.
Proving Wrongful Death
To succeed in bringing a wrongful death claim or lawsuit, the death must be considered “wrongful.” In this context, “wrongful” essentially means “caused by negligence, default, or unlawful conduct.” The family must be able to prove that the defendant’s actions or inaction caused the death.
Our experienced New Jersey wrongful death attorneys can help prove the following elements of your wrongful death claim:
- The defendant owed your loved one, the decedent, a duty of care
- The defendant failed to uphold or breached the duty of care
- Your loved one died as a result of the defendant’s actions or inactions
- You and/or the decedent’s estate have suffered losses, or “damages,” as a result of the death
Note that your loved one’s death need not have been intentional or even criminal to qualify as a wrongful death in New Jersey. However, it is possible to bring a separate civil lawsuit against an individual or liable party that intentionally caused the death of your family member. This is true regardless of whether the defendant is charged with or convicted of manslaughter, homicide, murder, or a related crime.
Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death in New Jersey?
The rules about who can and can’t sue for wrongful death vary from state to state. In New Jersey, wrongful death actions must be filed by the personal representative of the estate. Personal representatives are most often the spouse, child, or parent of the decedent. However, if the decedent died without naming a personal representative, the court will appoint one.
Although the personal representative must be the one to file the wrongful death lawsuit, damages are sought on behalf of eligible family members.
Generally speaking, this includes but is not limited to the decedent’s surviving:
- Spouse or domestic partner
- Parents or legal guardians
- Nieces and nephews
- Descendants and/or heirs
Additionally, anyone who was dependent on the decedent in life may be entitled to recover compensation for damages in a wrongful death case if they can prove that they have suffered losses as a result of the individual’s death.
Our New Jersey wrongful death attorneys can provide clear legal counsel based on the specific details of your situation. We offer free initial consultations with absolutely no obligation. During this initial consultation, you can discuss your case with an attorney at our firm, have your questions answered, and obtain more information on how you can proceed.
New Jersey wrongful death law allows surviving family members to recover financial compensation for certain losses related to the death.
These include but are not limited to:
- The loss of companionship
- Lost inheritance
- Funeral and/or burial expenses
- Medical bills related to the decedent’s final treatment and care
- Loss of household support (maintenance, chores, childcare, etc.)
- The decedent’s loss of future earnings and job benefits
- The family’s lost care, guidance, advice, or support
These are just a few examples. The amount of recovery available will depend on the facts of the case. Remember that purely emotional claims (such as “mental anguish”) are generally not entitled to compensation. Rather, there must usually be some economic dimension to the loss claimed, though there are exceptions.
Additionally, punitive damages are sometimes awarded as punishment for the defendant if his or her conduct was especially egregious. Also known as “exemplary damages,” punitive damages are relatively rare. An attorney at our firm can review your case and help you understand the types of damages you may be entitled to receive, as well as the potential overall value of your case.
What is the Statute of Limitations on Wrongful Death Claims in New Jersey?
If you or your family is suffering as the result of a wrongful death, call the experienced New Jersey wrongful death attorneys at The Law Offices Of James C. DeZao, P.A. In most cases, you only have two years to file a wrongful death lawsuit, so you should not delay. If the statute of limitations expires, you may lose your right to recover any compensation for your damages.
What Is a “Survival Action?”
If your loved one suffered injuries and related damages in between the time of the defendant’s negligence and the time of the death, New Jersey law allows the family or the estate to seek recovery for the cost of those injuries. This is known as a “survival action.”
In New Jersey, a survival action allows the decedent’s estate and/or family members to recover compensation for financial losses related to medical care experienced by the decedent prior to death when those losses were caused by the defendant’s negligence or wrongful conduct. This includes all expenses related to reasonable and necessary medical care, such as hospital and ambulance fees, surgeries and other treatments, medications, medical equipment, and more.
Contact Our Wrongful Death Attorneys for Compassionate Legal Representation
Families are often too shocked by an unexpected death to fully realize its financial impact. However, hospital bills, medical expenses, funeral costs, and other unexpected financial challenges can quickly add up. These costs are very real, and they can be devastating for surviving loved ones and families.
If your loved one’s death was the result of someone else’s negligence or unlawful conduct, you don’t deserve to shoulder these costs alone. The truth is that a wrongful death lawsuit can’t bring your loved one back, and it isn’t enough to heal a hurting heart. But, with an experienced attorney’s help, you can at least ease the financial burden your family will face.
At The Law Offices Of James C. DeZao, P.A., your initial consultation is completely free of charge, and if we agree to handle your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis. This means we only get paid for our services if we achieve a monetary recovery on your behalf. It is our job to maximize your recovery to the fullest extent available under New Jersey law. We understand how important it is that you and your family obtain a fair settlement or verdict, as well as the justice you are owed.
We serve clients in Parsippany, Troy Hills, Morris County, Essex County, and throughout the entire state of New Jersey. We are ready to fight to protect your rights and seek the full, fair compensation you deserve. Our team is available to assist you 24/7, and we offer services in English, Spanish, Polish, and Italian.
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