Wrongful Death Law and Legal Definition
Wrongful death is a civil action which charges another with being liable for injury resulting in another's death by reason of negligent actions or a failure to act which could foreseeably result in death. The plaintiff (the executor or administrator of the estate of the decedent, family member, or spouse) must prove that the decedent would not have died but for the negligence of the defendant.
Damages which may be recovered are medical expenses, loss of wages and future earnings, loss of consortium, loss of support, and loss of companionship. A child might be entitled to compensation for the personal loss of a father as well as the amount of financial support the child would have received from the deceased parent while a minor, a wife would recover damages for loss of her husband's love and companionship and a lifetime of expected support, while a parent would be limited to damages for loss of companionship but not support.
Generally, funds recovered by a personal representative in a wrongful death action are intended for the exclusive benefit of the statutory beneficiaries and are not an asset of the decedent’s estate. Therefore, the award cannot be used to satisfy the decedent’s debts. For example, courts have held that a hospital lien does not attach the settlement of a wrongful death claim.
Example of a state statute on wrongful death
According to the Alabama statute, Code of Ala. § 6-5-410, “a personal representative may commence an action and recover such damages as the jury may assess in a court of competent jurisdiction within the State of Alabama, for the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of any person, persons, or corporation, his or their servants or agents, whereby the death of his testator or intestate was caused, provided the testator or intestate could have commenced an action for such wrongful act, omission, or negligence if it had not caused death.” The statute further states that the damages recovered are not subject to the payment of the debts or liabilities of the testator or intestate, but must be distributed according to the statute of distributions. Such action must be commenced within two years from and after the death of the testator or intestate.
The purpose of Alabama's wrongful death statute is to protect human life and prevent homicides by the wrongful act, omission, or negligence of persons or corporations. [Pace v. Armstrong World Industries, Inc., 578 So. 2d 281, 283 (Ala. 1991)]
Legal Definition list
Related Legal Terms
- Accelerated Death Benefit
- Accidental Death
- Accidental Death and Dismemberment [Insurance]
- Accidental Death Benefit
- Accidental Death Clause
- American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators [ABMDI]
- Angel of Death Tax Break
- Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
- Brain Death
- Civil Causes of Action - Wrongful Action