Everyone grieves the loss of a loved one differently, but many people find themselves wondering if their loved one’s death could have been avoided. Some deaths are accidents and could not have been prevented, but others are the result of another party’s actions.
These actions don’t have to rise to the level of a crime, but in some cases, they do.
How Can a Breckenridge Wrongful Death Attorney Help You?
We know that putting your life back together after losing a loved one is a painful process. At the same time, we understand that many people are frustrated when the criminal justice system fails to provide any sense of justice regarding a family member’s death.
As wrongful death attorneys, we aim to help you tell your loved one’s story and hold the responsible party accountable.
While we understand that money can’t replace your deceased loved one, we also know that it can help you with the practical aspects of moving on with your life – providing for your children, maintaining your family’s home, and carrying out your loved one’s wishes in their memory.
Why Is It So Hard to Get Justice Through the Criminal Justice System?
We often hear this question, and some people also ask if we can help them send the person responsible to jail. While we understand the impulse, that’s not what wrongful death attorneys do.
Prosecuting criminal offenses is the job of the local prosecutor, but as we mentioned earlier, not every wrongful death meets the criteria of a crime.
Even when it does, there may be multiple reasons why the perpetrator is not convicted, and most are related to a lack of evidence. It’s important to remember that in criminal trials, juries are held to the standard of finding a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt or not guilty.
Many cases are referred to prosecutors each year, but they have limited time and resources, so they have to pursue the cases they’re most likely to win. Unfortunately, there are often cases where the evidence of a crime is limited.
That doesn’t mean the defendant is innocent, but it does mean it will be tough to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. In these situations, a prosecutor may not pursue charges. If they do go to trial, the defendant might be acquitted.
Both of these situations are incredibly upsetting to the family members of a wrongful death victim. You want to see the person responsible face some kind of consequences for their actions, and you may feel that the criminal justice system hasn’t delivered those consequences.
This is one of the reasons families sometimes seek the help of a wrongful death attorney.
How Does a Wrongful Death Claim Work?
Unlike in a criminal case, a defendant who loses a civil case does not face time in jail or prison. They could, however, be held liable for damages in the form of money.
It can be hard for people to think about putting a monetary value on their loved one’s life, but this is the only way to seek compensation in a civil trial.
Although no amount of money can replace a family member, the damages in a civil trial provide a way to honor the deceased person’s memory. The money could be used to carry out the decedent’s goals, such as sending their kids to college or supporting a nonprofit.
A wrongful death claim can also help families that are struggling financially in the aftermath of a death. Grieving a loss is painful and exhausting, and the last thing you need is to find yourself with bills you can’t pay while trying to move forward.
Unfortunately, this happens in many situations after a wrongful death. Here are some examples:
- Life insurance doesn’t provide enough coverage. Sometimes the surviving spouse discovers their deceased partner’s life insurance policy was barely enough to pay for burial or funeral expenses. In other cases, the decedent had significant medical expenses from the injury or illness that took their life; between medical bills and funeral costs, the entire life insurance payment is gone.
- The deceased person was the primary earner in the family. Sometimes a stay-at-home parent is faced with returning to work at a time when their kids are still struggling with the loss of their other parent. Even a generous life insurance policy may not cover the family’s living expenses in the long term, and the surviving spouse may now have additional costs, like paying for childcare while they work.
- The family needs two incomes to survive. We’ve met people who barely made ends meet before their spouse died. With only one income, they may struggle to pay the rent or mortgage while providing for their children’s needs. Additionally, if their budget was limited to two incomes, they may not have been able to afford life insurance, or they may only have had a very inexpensive policy that paid very little. This, combined with funeral or medical bills, can quickly put the family in debt. Some may even be in danger of losing their home or being evicted.
How Do You Know if a Death Was “Wrongful”?
Wrongful death claims may be filed in situations where the decedent could have had a personal injury claim if they had lived. Although some wrongful death claims are associated with criminal cases, many are based on neglect.
Some common situations that lead to wrongful death cases include:
- Car or motor vehicle accidents. If another person or party caused or was even mostly responsible for the accident, we can file a wrongful death claim. In these situations, the responsible driver’s car insurance will usually pay at least some of your damages (up to the limits of the policy). However, wrongful death cases may have damages of six or seven figures, and most people don’t carry that much liability insurance. As a result, we may also seek the remaining damages from the driver, the decedent’s car insurance policy, or in a few less common situations, a third party.
- Accidents involving other vehicles. These may include boats, planes, trains, golf carts, ATVs, etc. Sometimes the driver or operator is the responsible party, but in other cases, the owner or a business may have been negligent.
- Violent encounters. If your loved one died after being shot or attacked, you could bring a claim against the perpetrator, but this is not always a strong option. If the responsible person doesn’t have any assets we can seize, you could go through a stressful and time-consuming trial and be unable to collect on the judgment. But in many cases where the decedent was attacked in a public place or business, we can also bring a premises liability claim against the establishment. For example, if a person died after being attacked in a store parking lot, the store may have been negligent in its security efforts.
- Medical malpractice. If a medical mistake costs your family member their life, we may be able to bring a claim against the doctor. In situations where a nurse or another employee of a healthcare facility was negligent, we could file a claim against the facility. Medical malpractice cases require showing that another doctor or healthcare provider in the same specialty would not have made the same decision.
- Defective products or medications. If you can trace your family member’s fatal accident or injury to a product that somehow caused their death, you may have a claim against the manufacturer. Examples include deaths from dangerous medications or vehicles that malfunctioned and caused a crash.
- Workplace accidents. If the decedent died while doing their job, whether they worked in construction, farming, or another industry, their dependents should be eligible for worker’s compensation death benefits. Unfortunately, these benefits are limited to two-thirds of the deceased person’s average weekly wage, and the worker’s compensation insurance carrier may fight your claim. A wrongful death lawyer can help you fight for the death benefits you deserve from Worker’s Compensation. Additionally, we will consider whether you might have a third-party claim. For instance, if the fatal accident was caused by someone who didn’t work for the decedent’s employer, you could file a wrongful death suit against them.
The above examples are the kinds of cases we see most frequently, but a wrongful death can occur in any situation where a person’s or entity’s negligence or intentional actions cause a death. But is that what happened to your loved one?
This is a challenging question to answer on your own, especially when you may not know all the facts of the accident or injury. The only way to know for sure is to speak with a Breckinridge wrongful death attorney.
Contact a Breckenridge Wrongful Death Law Firm Today
If you have questions or concerns about your loved one’s death or a possible wrongful death claim, please contact the Olson Law Firm at (720) 730-4325 for a free, confidential consultation. We can help you understand what happened, including investigating an accident or other incident in some cases.
Attorney Sean Olson will meet with you personally to learn about your family member, answer your questions, and explain your options.