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You’ve probably heard of wrongful death suits, but do you know what they are? Put simply, “wrongful death” means that someone passed away because of the negligence or bad behavior of another person. It means that the death is legally the fault of another person and could have been avoided.
Let’s take a closer look at the laws surrounding wrongful death in Ohio. We’ll go over the following:
- How wrongful death lawsuits work as civil cases
- The top causes of wrongful deaths in Ohio, including medical malpractice and negligence, vehicle accidents, and slips and falls
- The statute of limitations for wrongful death in Ohio
- How much your wrongful death suit may be worth
The Ohio wrongful death laws define a wrongful death as a death “caused by wrongful act, neglect, or default” and allows a wrongful death suit if the wrongful act, neglect, or default would have given rise to a lawsuit if the victim had not died. A wrongful death suit is a civil action, as opposed to a criminal one. In a criminal case, the defendant may face jail time, fines, and other penalties. In a civil suit, the defendant must pay cash damages to the plaintiffs.
Even if the party at fault is not convicted in a criminal case, the family of the deceased may still recover damages in a wrongful death suit. That’s because of the different standards of proof required in criminal and civil cases. In a criminal case, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In a civil case, the standard is much lower. The plaintiffs only have to show the defendant’s fault by a “preponderance of the evidence.” In other words, they must show that it’s more likely than not that the actions of the defendant caused the death of the victim.
Causes of Wrongful Death
There are a wide variety of causes for wrongful death. Medical malpractice is one of the most common with more than 3,000 claims in Ohio per year, such as communication errors and failure to maintain equipment or a clean environment. Motor vehicle accidents are the next-biggest cause of wrongful death, accounting for more than 1,000 deaths in Ohio per year. Meanwhile, about 100 fatalities each year in our state are caused by trucking accidents, according to Ohio State Highway Patrol statistics.
Slip-and-fall fatalities come next on the list, with more than 2.5 fall-related emergency room visits for every 100 Ohio older adults, according to data from the Ohio Hospital Association. And falls don’t just affect older adults — fall-related hospital visits resulted in $1.2 billion in medical charges in Ohio from 2002 to 2005, which was more than the costs associated with treating motor vehicle injuries, self-harm, assault, and unintentional poisoning. Property owners have a legal duty to maintain their property in a safe condition; failure to do so makes them liable for injuries to the people on their land. In total, the CDC reports that unintentional injuries claim more than 136,000 lives each year in the United States.
Wrongful death suits also may involve negligence. For example, a doctor or nurse may accidentally give a patient the wrong medication, leading to the death of the patient. That may give rise to a wrongful death suit. Wrongful death suits may also involve intentional actions; these are typically also crimes. Murder, for example, can give rise to a wrongful death suit in addition to criminal charges.
Who can bring a wrongful death suit?
In a typical personal injury suit, only the injured party has the right to sue. Obviously, a deceased victim cannot bring a suit on her own behalf. So, a “personal representative” of the estate of the deceased can bring suit instead. In Ohio, the suit must be for the benefit of the estate, surviving spouse, parents, and children of the deceased. Those people are presumed to have suffered damages because of the death. However, the defense attorney may show that these next-of-kin did not actually suffer damages, in which case they are not entitled to compensation. That may occur when the surviving family members and the deceased were estranged, for example.
Other people, such as grandchildren or siblings of the deceased, may be able to show in court that they suffered a compensable loss due to the death of the victim. A “compensable” loss is a loss that is legally recognized and can give rise to a claim for compensation.
Finally, parents who have abandoned a child may not recover in a wrongful death suit arising from the death of that child.
When can you bring a wrongful death suit?
You have a limited amount of time in which to file a lawsuit for wrongful death. That’s called a “statute of limitations.” Ohio state law gives you two years from the date of death to file. If you file after that time, the court will typically dismiss your case. However, certain factors can alter the way the statute of limitations runs. For example, if the death was caused by a faulty product, you can’t bring suit more than 10 years after the original injury involving the product, regardless of when the victim actually died. Your best option is to speak to an experienced wrongful death attorney as soon as possible after the victim passes away to determine your eligibility to file a claim.
How much is a wrongful death suit worth?
A wrongful death case may be settled before trial or may go before a jury. In Ohio, the jury has the right to award an amount proportional to the injuries and loss suffered by the beneficiaries of the suit. The jury may also separately award funeral and burial costs. The amount of the jury award is determined by “all factors existing at the time of the decedent’s death that are relevant to a determination of the damages suffered by reason of the wrongful death.” In other words, they can consider whether people were dependent on the deceased for support, how much the deceased earned, how long she expected to continue working, and other factors to determine how much the wrongful death will cost the beneficiaries of the suit.
The damages awarded in a wrongful death suit fall into two general categories. First, the jury may award compensation for costs incurred between the accident and the death. That typically includes medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Second, the jury may award compensation for damage to the surviving family members after the death of the victim. A wrongful death suit doesn’t just cover the cash value of the earnings of the deceased. Ohio law also allows for damages to compensate for the loss of “companionship, consortium, care, assistance, attention, protection, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, training, and education.” You may recover for “mental anguish” caused by the suffering and death of the victim. You may also recover for the loss of the inheritance you would have received had the deceased lived a natural life.
The distribution of the proceeds from a wrongful death suit is determined by Ohio’s laws regarding inheritance. Generally, family members who are all related to the same degree will receive equal parts of the award. Family members who are farther removed from the deceased will receive less than those who are more closely related.
Wrongful Death Cases in Ohio
A lawsuit for wrongful death in Ohio can take many forms. For example, the estate of one Ohio woman sued Montgomery County for failing to take action after she repeatedly complained about her neighbors’ dangerous dogs. She was mauled to death by the dogs in 2014. She had called 911 more than 15 times and filed 12 separate reports about the dangerous dogs, but the county failed to take any action. That mistake cost her her life. Her estate also sued the owners of the dogs, however, the case was voluntarily dismissed.
Another suit in Ohio was filed against Ohio University on behalf of a student who passed away after contracting a severe strain of bacterial meningitis. The lawsuit alleged that the university failed to warn students about the dangerous disease that was spreading through campus. When she called the health center with a fever of over 103, they told her to take an anti-inflammatory such as Tylenol or Advil and get some rest. As a result of that advice, the student died of the illness. In early February 2015, Ohio University settled with the estate for about $1 million.
Another wrongful death suit in Ohio was filed against OhioHealth and O’Bleness Memorial Hospital on behalf of a patient who died of an allergic reaction while under the hospital’s care. Even though his allergies were listed on his chart, a doctor gave him one of the medications to which he was allergic. That mistake resulted in his death. The suit claimed damages of more than $25,000.
What should I do if I want to file a wrongful death suit?
First, gather all the information and documentation you have about the injuries that cost the victim her life. Then, contact one of the experienced wrongful death attorneys of Dyer, Garofalo, Mann & Schultz L.P.A. for a free consultation. We’ll go over your case with you to determine whether you have a valid claim and we’ll help you follow your claim through to the end. If your loved one passed away due to the error or intentional bad action of another person, we can help you fight for the compensation you deserve.