A mourner at a funeral with a hand on a casket placed next to a bouquet of white flowers.

Mourning the loss of a loved one is always painful, but it becomes even more complicated when there are lingering questions about the circumstances of the death or who might be responsible.

Many grieving people question whether another party could be at fault for their family member’s premature death. Some pursue criminal charges, only to learn there isn’t sufficient evidence to support a criminal case.

Others only seek a sense of accountability and justice for the responsible party.

What Can an Albuquerque Wrongful Death Lawyer Do to Help?

At Olson Personal Injury Lawyers, we understand the difficulty of coping with uncertainty surrounding a family member’s passing, and we are committed to helping you find clarity. At the same time, we recognize that an unexpected death can also lead to financial strain, so we’ll investigate whether negligence played a role in your loved one’s death.

If so, we will explore the avenues for seeking compensation, allowing you to concentrate on your family during this challenging period. Your initial consultation is always free, and we never charge any fees unless and until we win or settle your case.

How Does a Wrongful Death Occur?

Most wrongful deaths are caused by the negligence of another party; this can happen in a wide variety of ways, which we’ll discuss in more detail later. Some examples include car accidents, medical malpractice, and injuries on another party’s property.

Sometimes, people mistakenly believe that no one is responsible if a death is ruled accidental, but this isn’t always true.

A death can be accidentally caused by another party’s negligence; it can also be caused by the decedent’s negligence. Finally, it’s possible that no one was negligent, and an unpredictable chain of events led to the death.

Sorting out which of those situations caused your loved one’s death can be complicated—especially during the grieving process. This is one way that an Albuquerque personal injury attorney can be helpful.

We’ll examine the details of the death and help you determine if another party was negligent or if the death was simply an unavoidable accident.

What if I Believe a Loved One’s Death Was a Crime?

Earlier, we told you that most wrongful deaths are caused by negligence, but in some cases, they can be the result of an intentional act.

People often come to us because they want someone to be prosecuted for their family member’s death. Usually, they have already met with prosecutors and learned that criminal charges aren’t going to stick, most likely because there isn’t enough evidence to prove a crime has been committed.

We understand how maddening it is to hear the person you believe caused the death will not be held responsible in criminal court.

However, in many cases, it is possible to win a civil case against the responsible party even when a criminal case would be unsuccessful. If you’re wondering why, it’s because the burden of proof is much lower in civil court.

In a criminal trial, it’s necessary to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, you can win a civil trial if you show the defendant was more likely than not guilty by a “preponderance of evidence.”

Additionally, you don’t have to prove that the death was intentional, only that the defendant was negligent in some way.

Sometimes, people feel that a wrongful death suit isn’t enough punishment for the responsible party. We understand the frustration, but in some cases, it is the only option.

It’s also important to note that a wrongful death case isn’t only meant to punish the defendant.

A tragic death can leave a family in financial distress in addition to emotional distress. Many grieving family members find themselves struggling to pay bills and support their children after a loved one’s sudden passing.

A wrongful death suit can’t bring back a deceased loved one or put the responsible party in prison, but it can allow you to care for your family financially. The settlement may provide enough to pay off medical or funeral bills, pay for necessities while you put your life back together, and honor your loved one’s memory in any way you choose.

What Do You Need to Prove in a Wrongful Death Case?

As with other personal injury claims, you must show that the defendant’s negligent actions caused harm—in this case, the decedent’s passing. After studying the evidence and developing a clear picture of what happened, your attorney will seek to identify the four criteria for negligence:

  • The defendant (an individual or an entity like a business) had a duty of care. This refers to the basic expectation that—within reason—we should all avoid actions likely to harm others.
  • The other party breached their duty of care. This means they engaged in behavior likely to cause injury or harm, such as driving recklessly, failing to follow safety procedures when using dangerous equipment, or failing to provide adequate security in a shopping center.
  • This breach of duty caused the death. One of the most complex parts of a wrongful death case is linking the negligent actions directly to the cause of death. Often, the negligent party’s lawyer will argue that the death was either someone else’s responsibility or an unavoidable accident. A skilled personal injury attorney will craft a robust argument to counter this claim and prove how the negligent party’s actions resulted in the death.
  • You have suffered damages because of the death. In a wrongful death case, damages may include final medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, loss of income or financial support, loss of consortium or companionship, emotional distress from losing a loved one, and, when relevant, the decedent’s pain and suffering before death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Albuquerque?

In New Mexico, it is the responsibility of the personal representative or executor of the deceased’s estate to file a wrongful death claim. If you’re uncertain about who the personal representative is, an attorney can assist you in finding out.

Typically, the personal representative or executor is designated in the decedent’s last will and testament. In cases where there is no will, the probate court will appoint a representative, often a family member.

If an executor has not yet been appointed, you may petition the court to have yourself designated for this role. The requirements for being a personal representative in New Mexico are fairly minimal—you must be at least 18 and of sound mind. There is no ban on those with a felony conviction serving as personal representatives unless the felony caused the decedent’s death. The probate court can reject a person as “unsuitable” for the role, but this rarely happens.

Does the Personal Representative Receive the Damages?

Not unless they are meant to receive the damages under New Mexico’s inheritance rules. Usually, the damages will be distributed in this order:

  • If the deceased leaves behind a spouse but no children, the spouse receives all the damages.
  • If there is a spouse and one or more children or grandchildren, the damages are shared between the spouse and the descendants.
  • If the deceased has children or grandchildren but no spouse, the damages are distributed among the children or grandchildren.
  • In cases with no surviving spouse or children, or if the deceased was a minor, the damages go to the deceased’s parents. If the parents are also deceased, the siblings may inherit the damages.

What Damages Can You Seek in a Wrongful Death Case?

Wrongful death cases often involve a high amount of damages. Your attorney will want to review each category carefully so nothing is left out. Here are some of the damages we’ll discuss:

  • Funeral or burial expenses. Even a small funeral can cost over $6,000 today, and for many families, that could be a severe financial strain. No one should have to worry about money while planning a funeral or burial, but for many, it’s an unfortunate necessity.
  • Medical bills related to the death. Sadly, many grieving families face unexpected medical bills after the funeral. Trying to save the life of a critically injured person usually requires costly medical care, often including a stay in the Intensive Care Unit or ICU. Chances are, the decedent’s health insurance won’t cover everything, leaving bills of thousands or tens of thousands for the family to pay.
  • Lost income. If your family depended on the decedent‘s income, you may seek compensation for the loss of financial support. We’ll meticulously assess the potential financial contributions your loved one would have made if they had lived, ensuring you have the necessary resources to move forward.
  • Emotional distress. The psychological pain stemming from the loss of a loved one’s care, guidance, counseling, and companionship is another potential damage. Insurance companies may try to undervalue this noneconomic damage, but we’ll fight for a fair valuation.
  • The decedent’s pain and suffering. If the deceased survived for any duration after the incident that led to their death and was conscious enough to feel pain, you can also seek damages for their suffering during that time.
  • Punitive damages. These are only available in limited situations where the defendant’s actions were intentional, malicious, fraudulent, or showed “reckless disregard” for the decedent’s safety. There is a higher burden of proof for punitive damages, and in many cases, there simply isn’t enough evidence. However, in some situations, we can meet the criteria and seek additional damages meant to punish the defendant rather than compensate the family for their loss.

What Are the Most Common Types of Cases an Albuquerque Wrongful Death Attorney Handles?

First, we don’t want to give the impression that a wrongful death case has to fit into a specific category. Sometimes, wrongful deaths can occur in unusual circumstances. The most important factor is whether there is evidence that another party’s negligence or intentional act caused the death. If you think this is the case, no matter how your loved one’s death occurred, we urge you to consult a wrongful death attorney.

However, many wrongful death cases occur in one of the following areas:

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Beyond “car accidents,” this category also includes deaths involving large trucks, buses, multi-vehicle collisions, and cases where bicyclists or pedestrians are struck by a vehicle. There are several important factors to consider in a traffic accident death:

  • Wrongful death claims in motor vehicle accidents are usually paid by the at-fault driver’s auto insurance policy.
  • Although some car crashes are due to weather, road issues, or uncontrollable circumstances, most are caused by driving errors.
  • Both drivers can contribute to a serious accident, and if the deceased was driving at the time, the other driver’s insurance company might try to blame them.

It’s important to understand that under New Mexico law, the fact that an injured or deceased person contributed to the accident in question does not preclude recovery. So, if your loved one was partially at fault in the collision, you can still recover some of your damages. They will be diminished by whatever percentage of fault is attributed to the decedent. Unfortunately, it’s common for the insurance company to overestimate this percentage to pay a lower settlement.

However, your attorney will work to prevent that from happening. We’ll examine photos from the scene, obtain witness statements, review video footage (from sources such as doorbell or security cameras), analyze black box data from both vehicles, and more to build a strong case.

If the evidence clearly shows that the other driver was solely at fault, we will strive to secure the full settlement you deserve. Otherwise, we’ll fight for a fair valuation of any fault the decedent had so you can receive the largest settlement possible.


Falling is one of the most common causes of accidental death, especially in adults older than 65. However, it’s possible to die from a fall at any age, and the fall doesn’t have to be from a significant height. We see many cases where the decedent tripped, fell, and suffered a fatal injury (usually from hitting their head).

On the surface, this may sound like a tragic accident that isn’t anyone’s fault, but that’s not always the case. If the deceased person slipped or tripped due to an unaddressed hazard on someone else’s property, the property owner could have been negligent. It will be necessary to show that the owner knew or should have known about a hazard that any reasonable person would assume might cause an injury.

If your loved one’s fatal fall occurred on another party’s property, here are some factors we’ll consider:

  • Was your loved one a patient in a hospital, nursing home, or other medical care facility when the fall happened? This is cause for concern for several reasons. Medical facilities should address any hazards quickly because many patients have limited mobility and may also be at increased risk of injury due to various conditions. At the same time, patients may also be deemed a high “fall risk” because of some conditions, especially those that cause vertigo or loss of consciousness. The facility has a duty to provide “fall risk” patients with assistance or mobility aids to reduce the risk of falling. If they failed to take these steps and your family member fell, leading to their death, the facility could be at fault.
  • What actually caused the fall? Sometimes, we ask clients this question, and they don’t know the answer. They might say, “I think he tripped on something.” Or, “I don’t know. One minute, she was walking, and the next, she was on the ground.” It’s all right if you don’t know anything more than this—we can investigate to learn what caused the fall. In some cases, we might learn that the deceased tripped or slipped on an unaddressed hazard the property owner should have fixed.
  • Did the fall happen at work? If your loved one was working when they fell, you will most likely have a Worker’s Compensation claim rather than a wrongful death claim. In New Mexico, you can receive death or survivor benefits equal to the maximum the decedent would have earned in temporary total disability benefits for up to 700 weeks. In Worker’s Comp cases, it’s not necessary to prove anyone was negligent, but the insurance company may still fight your claim on other grounds.
  • Was the fall at or near a construction site? When the decedent worked on the site as an employee, we’ll pursue a Worker’s Compensation claim, as discussed in the previous section. However, if the decedent was an independent contractor or simply a passerby, you may have a wrongful death case.

Medical Malpractice or Medical Facility Negligence

Sometimes, clients tell us that their loved one died of an illness or injury, but they believe a doctor or healthcare worker was at fault. How can you determine if medical malpractice played a role in your loved one’s passing?

It can be hard for someone who isn’t a medical expert to determine if their family member’s death was unavoidable or caused by a doctor’s error. Consider taking a closer look at the circumstances surrounding your relative’s death if any of the following signs are present:

  • They had a relatively minor illness with a positive prognosis but deteriorated rapidly despite following medical advice.
  • The doctor provides only vague explanations or avoids answering your questions directly.
  • Your loved one experienced prolonged symptoms and attended multiple doctor visits, yet wasn’t diagnosed until their illness was advanced.
  • The death resulted from a foreign object left inside the patient after surgery or another confirmed surgical error.
  • They were given medication or treatment that was contraindicated due to allergies or other medical conditions despite informing the doctor about these issues.
  • There was evidence of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, hospital, or long-term care facility, such as bruises, bedsores, missing mobility aids, fearful behavior, cuts, broken bones, weight loss, or other signs of malnutrition.
  • You suspect the wrong medication was prescribed or administered, whether by a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional.
  • The facility where your loved one died appeared to be understaffed, which increases the likelihood of medical mistakes.

While most of these signs don’t conclusively prove malpractice, and there may be reasonable explanations that don’t involve a doctor’s error, noticing any of these indicators should prompt you to discuss the matter with an attorney to learn more. We’ll study the decedent’s medical records and, if necessary, consult with medical experts to determine the chain of events.

Defective Products

Often, people struggling to make sense of a death consider multiple parties who may be at fault. In many cases, they don’t consider defective products, but these can and do cause deaths. For example, defective drugs or medical devices can cause deaths that appear natural but aren’t.

The patient’s family may not be aware of a connection between a medication or device and the patient’s death for some time.

However, defective products in almost any category can be lethal. We also see cases involving defective car components, toys, children’s products, appliances, building materials, safety devices, and more.

In New Mexico, product manufacturers are subject to strict liability, so proving the manufacturer’s negligence is unnecessary. However, we must demonstrate that the product was unreasonably dangerous when it left the manufacturer and that this hazardous condition led to the death.

Where Can You Learn More From an Albuquerque Wrongful Death Law Firm?

Grappling with questions after a loved one’s passing is difficult, but an experienced wrongful death lawyer can help you get answers and understand your options. If you suspect your family member’s death was caused by another party’s negligence, please contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers for a free, confidential consultation.

We’ll review your case and let you know if we find evidence of negligence, then discuss the possibilities for pursuing damages. There is no obligation, but if we take your case, you won’t owe us anything until we successfully resolve it.

Attorney Sean Olson, the founder and lead attorney of Olson Personal Injury Lawyers, began his career in photojournalism, but soon, his passion for storytelling led him to legal advocacy. He graduated from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law in the top one percent of his class, then turned his attention to helping injured people tell their stories.

When he’s not working hard on a case, Mr. Olson enjoys fishing, mountain biking, and quality time with his family. Work with him today when you call Olson Personal Injury Lawyers at (505) 391-4149.