Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in New Jersey

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits in New Jersey

The loss of a family member can be devastating. Not only are there emotional aspects of the loss which must be dealt with by the family, but frequently there are also financial consequences that affect the family and the dependents of the decedent.

When the loved one's death was caused by someone else's negligence, the next-of-kin may be able bring a wrongful death lawsuit again the person or persons who caused the untimely death. By pursuing a wrongful death claim, the estate of the decedent may seek compensation for any medical and funeral bills, and other out-of-pocket damages incurred as a result of the loved-one’s death. In addition, dependents may be entitled to compensation for future financial support and lost services that would have been provided had the loved-one survived.

While no dollar amount can ever replace a lost family member, financial compensation for a wrongful death can help a family survive in the future. As wrongful death lawyers, it is our goal is to take the lead on pursuing financial compensation for the loss of a loved one, so our clients can focus on each other during this difficult time.

What is Wrongful Death?

The term "wrongful death" describes an untimely death that is caused by the negligence of another person or entity. A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit in many respects, however in a wrongful death action the plaintiff seeking compensation is the estate of the deceased victim, rather than the injured plaintiff him or herself. Basically, had the victim survived, if he or she could pursue a personal injury claim for their injuries, loss of income, medical bills and other damages, then the victim’s estate may pursue a wrongful death claim.

While there are similarities between wrongful death and personal injury claims, one distinct difference is that the estate of a deceased person in a wrongful death lawsuit may not seek compensation for their own emotional pain and suffering. Only under very limited circumstances can family members sustain claims for emotional distress in connection with the death of a loved one, such as where a family member witnesses the untimely death.

What is the Difference between the Wrongful Death Act and the Survival Statute?

In wrongful death lawsuits, there are typically two claims made by the estate: 1) a claim under the NJ Wrongful Death Act, and 2) a claim under the NJ Survival Statute.

The Wrongful Death Act allows the estate to pursue compensation for the economic value of the decedent's life, had the decent lived to full life expectancy. This includes compensation not only for out-of-pocket costs such as medical and funeral bills, but also costs for future support and services that would have been provided by the decedent. The Survival Statute, on the other hand, allows the estate of the decedent to pursue compensation for the conscious pain and suffering experienced by the decedent between the time of the accident and the untimely death.

Thus, the Wrongful Death Act is intended to compensate dependents for the loss of the economic value of the decedent's life, while the Survival Statute provides compensation for the decedent's conscious pain and suffering prior to death.

Who Receives Compensation in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

In New Jersey, compensation received in connection with a wrongful death claim is distributed differently than compensation received on a survival claim.

Compensation received in connection with a wrongful death claim is distributed to the dependents of the decedent, regardless of directives in wills, living arrangements, or other circumstances. Thus, any dependent, even one who is left entirely out of a will, may seek compensation in connection with a wrongful death claim.  Compensation received in connection with a survival claim, on the other hand, goes directly to the estate of the decedent and is distributed according to the decedent's will or the state's intestacy laws, if the decedent had no will.

Take, for example, a decedent who died with a will and is survived by a spouse and two children, all of whom were dependents. Assume a settlement of $2 million dollars, with $1 million allocated to a wrongful death claim and $1 million allocated to a survival claim. The $1 million wrongful death recovery would be distributed to the spouse and children as dependents of the decedent, in shares determined by the court. The remaining $1 million recovery under the survival statute would go to the estate of the decedent, and be distributed pursuant to the decedent's will.

Compensation is typically only awarded to parents of victims in cases where there is no spouse or children. Live-in partners and other relationships not recognized by the state may not receive any financial benefits from a wrongful death lawsuit. A person must be able to show legal recognition in the form of a state-issued marriage or civil union certificate in order to receive wrongful death compensation.

What Types of Cases Involve Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death case can involve virtually any type of accident scenario. Some typical cases involve:

If the death of a loved one or family member arose under similar circumstances, or was caused by the negligence of another, you may be able to bring a wrongful death claim.

How to Bring a Wrongful Death Claim to Court

Wrongful death lawsuits are complex legal matters which benefit from the assistance of experienced legal counsel. In New Jersey, a wrongful death lawsuit must typically be filed within 2 years of the date of death.

At the Reinartz Law Firm, our compassionate, professional legal team understands what you are dealing with and will do everything in our power to see that justice is served. Cases accepted by the firm are thoroughly investigated and prepared as if they will be tried before a court of law.

Our case preparation often involves the retention of top expert witnesses in a variety of fields to support the legal claims. In particular, wrongful death claims typically benefit from the opinion of an expert economist, who can calculate the financial value of the decent's life to the dependents. Additionally, medical experts may be needed to opine as to the conscious pain and suffering experienced by the decedent prior to death in cases involving near-instantaneous death. Liability experts may also be needed to opine on the mechanics of the accident and the negligence of the defendants.

We will pursue compensation for all permissible damages. This may include the cost of medical and hospital bills, funeral costs and other out-of-pocket costs associated with the death. Compensation for lost wages and services may also be sought. Finally, we will seek compensation for any conscious pain and suffering experienced by the decedent prior to the untimely death.

Contact the Reinartz Law Firm today

The law limits the time to file a wrongful death lawsuit and critical evidence can be lost or discarded over time. Thus, it is important to begin the legal process sooner rather than later if you believe you have a case. At the Reinartz Law Firm, clients pay nothing until we secure them a financial recovery. We work on a contingency basis, which means we are only paid a fee after we win compensation for you.

Contact us today to speak with a lawyer about your case. All consultations are free and confidential.