Have you recently lost a loved one and believe that the loss was caused by the acts or omissions of a third party? In other words, do you believe your loved one’s death was a wrongful death? While this time is undoubtedly heartbreaking, it is helpful to know that the costs of the death, as well as the loss of income and relationship from that person may be recovered through a wrongful death lawsuit. Therefore, knowing your rights is imperative.
Wrongful death in Michigan is defined as an intentional or unintentional act that causes an injury that results in the death of a legally living person (unborn fetuses do not apply). Another way to understand the definition is if the deceased person could have had a personal injury case as a result of the action had they lived, but instead it ended in death, this is wrongful death.
Wrongful acts may include, but are not limited to:
- negligence (like careless driving)
- intentional acts like assault and/or battery
- a death associated with another crime
- vehicular manslaughter
Michigan law requires the personal representative of the decedent’s estate to actually file the wrongful death lawsuit. This may be the executor of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or someone appointed by the probate court to serve as personal representative if the decedent died intestate. Accordingly, there can only be one wrongful death suit against the defendant, so it is important that all who are looking to recover damages be part of the suit. This ensures that all parties are included and are awarded fairly. Of those who are able to seek compensation are spouses (even separated or divorced spouses as long as no default of orders is present), parents, grandparents, siblings, children – including children of both the deceased and the surviving spouse, and anyone who may have been written into a will.
Once these beneficiaries are named, they have 60 days to notify the estate of their request for damages as a result of the death. Additionally, statutes in Michigan indicate that a wrongful death claim must be filed within three years of the date of death.
There are a couple of situations where certain people or entities cannot be held liable. Family immunity states that an individual cannot be sued by his or her family members. Sovereign Immunity refers to government entities, and means that they cannot be sued for liability. Determining if sovereign immunity applies is extremely complicated, therefore, it is extremely important to work with your attorney to clarify your circumstances.
Damages to be recovered come in two forms – compensatory and punitive. Because these types of cases are civil cases, they focus on monetary recovery. Michigan rarely allows recovery of punitive damages though as they are awarded to punish the defendant, not compensate the victims. The compensatory damages that may be recovered include:
- loss of wages and income, including potential earnings
- pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death, and that of the survivors
- damaged property costs
- intangible benefits such as companionship and guidance of the deceased, such as with children
- hospital, medical, funeral, and burial expenses
When discussing income loss, standard actuarial tables are useful in determining amounts based on age, gender, and life expectancy. There are also set amounts defined by the state that are designated to a decedent who was a homemaker, as they usually do not receive a paycheck.
If you need additional information, or have specific questions or concerns, contact a Michigan personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
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