Losing a loved one changes your life in ways you probably never would have considered. You lose the person’s companionship, love, and friendship. For instance, if your spouse suffers a sudden death, it means losing a lifetime of financial and emotional support. If you think a negligent person or entity caused or contributed to the death of your loved one, you don’t have to let it go. Wrongful death law gives you the legal right to seek justice and make the liable parties pay for their negligent actions.
A successful wrongful death claim will not only help you recover compensation for the damages you and your family suffered as a result of the death of your loved one, but also give you the funds and the peace of mind to help you cope with the aftermath of the untimely death of your loved one. If you’re considering filing a claim after losing a loved one, you should start by consulting with a skilled and experienced Rogers wrongful death lawyer, who can answer any questions you might have about your case.
The compassionate, skilled, and experienced attorneys at Keith Law Group can help you pursue justice for your loved one during this difficult time. Call our personal injury lawyers in Rogers at (479) 326-7734 to get your claim started.
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How is Wrongful Death Defined in the State of Arkansas?
In Arkansas, “wrongful death” is defined as the death of a person that results from any conduct, act, transaction, occurrence, or circumstance in which if death did not ensue, the person would have been entitled to recover damages.
Wrongful death claims typically arise when a person loses their life because of a negligent act (or even intentional acts) of another person or entity. These negligent actions may be easy to identify in some cases, such as with medical malpractice or auto accidents. But for other cases, the link is much harder to identify and will require extensive research, such as defective products.
A good way to think about wrongful death claims is as a special form of a personal injury claim. The main difference is that for most personal injury claims, the injured victim typically brings their own case to court, while for wrongful death cases, the deceased is obviously unable to bring any kind of legal action. Instead, it is the deceased person’s heirs or the representative of the deceased person’s estate that brings the case to court.
In Rogers, Arkansas, it’s possible to file a wrongful death claim even if there’s currently an underway criminal case connected to the same events. Since a wrongful death claim is a civil case, where the estate brings the case directly on its own behalf, the fault is only expressed in terms of compensation through a damages award. This is unlike a criminal case where the guilty is penalized by prison or jail time, probation, and other ways.
What is the Difference Between a Wrongful Death Claim and Estate Claim?
When it comes to wrongful death claims, the surviving family members usually step into the shoes of the deceased and pursue compensation for their damages. Usually, the first person with the right to file is the surviving spouse. In case there are children (minors) involved, their interests will be included in the claim. The deceased parents can also bring a claim, especially if minor children or a spouse are absent. Wrongful death claims generally seek after tangible losses like lost income and intangibles like loss of companionship.
On the other hand, estate claims are filed by the defendant’s estate to recoup expenses like burial and funeral costs. They can also pursue things like the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased before their death and the accumulated medical expenses.
Who Can File A Wrongful Death Claim In Arkansas?
Just as with many other states, Arkansas Law requires the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to file the wrongful death claim in court, where such a representative has been appointed. If there is no personal representative, such as if the deceased is a minor who has no estate, the claim can be filed by the deceased person’s heirs at law.
In Arkansas, the heirs at law who can file a wrongful death claim include:
- Persons standing “in loco parentis”
- The deceased person’s surviving children, spouse, siblings, or parents
- Persons to whom the deceased stood in loco parentis
What Damages Can You Get For A Wrongful Death Claim In Arkansas?
Arkansas Law ideally separates wrongful death claims under two main categories: the family claim and the estate claim.
The estate claim is filed by the estate of the deceased person, usually seeking compensation for the damages the deceased person suffered because of the negligent actions leading to their untimely death. Some of the most common damages paid out in estate claims include:
- Burial and funeral costs
- The pain and suffering the deceased endured before death
- Any medical bills the deceased incurred
The loss of value in terms of the deceased person’s remaining life, including the income he/she would have earned in their lifetime
Family claims are filed by the surviving members of the family for the deceased person and seek to pursue compensation for the losses the members of the family suffered because of suddenly losing their family members. Some of the common damages paid out in family claims include:
- Loss of consortium, comfort, care, and guidance
- Loss of financial support from the deceased
- Loss of essential household services
Keep in mind that neither the compensation awarded to the estate nor compensation awarded to the family can be part of the estate’s taxable assets. Additionally, the damages typically paid out to family claims are usually paid directly to the family members, not the estate.
It’s the responsibility of the family members to choose how to divide the lump sum awarded by the court if the wrongful death claim is successful. In case family members are unable to reach an agreement, the court could make a binding ruling with regards to how the compensation award is to be divided.
Can The Surviving Family File For Punitive Damages?
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the deceased case, the court might award punitive damages alongside the economic and non-economic damages awarded to the surviving members of the family. Punitive damages are usually awarded in cases where the defendant was engaging in especially reckless and hazardous behavior, which ended up causing the death of the victim. Punitive damages are usually meant to serve as extra punishment to the defendant and to deter them (and the public) from engaging in such behaviors in the future.
However, although punitive damages are legal in Arkansas, it’s rare for the plaintiff to make a successful claim for them. In other words, punitive damages aren’t always available for the vast majority of wrongful death claims. But if you think you have grounds for punitive damages in your wrongful death case, be sure to consult with one of our Rogers, AR, wrongful death lawyers, who can help you determine the kind of compensation you’re entitled to.
How is Negligence Proved in a Wrongful Death Case?
To be eligible for compensation, the plaintiff in a wrongful death case has to prove certain factors beyond a reasonable doubt. These factors include a duty of care, breach of this duty of care, direct causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
The plaintiff has to prove that at the time of the incident, the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care. While the exact definition of “duty of care” will vary depending on the facts surrounding the case, this duty entails keeping the other person safe and avoiding acts that put them at risk of harm.
For example, when it comes to driving-related wrongful death cases, such as if a motorist struck a pedestrian, the plaintiff could argue that the defendant owed the victim a duty of care to use their vehicle as safely and as prudent as a reasonable person would. It would then be up to the judge to decide if the defendant owed a duty of care.
In such a case, the judge will account for several factors when making their decision, including how convincing it is that the damages occurred, the public policy consequences for finding this duty of care in similar cases, the own moral blame of the defendant, the foreseeability of the harm, along with how closely tied the actions of the defendant and the harm was.
Breach of Duty of Care
If the duty of care is proven to have existed, the next step is to demonstrate how the defendant breached this duty. Considering the above example, the plaintiff could offer more evidence to show that the defendant was not paying enough attention to the road when the accident occurred. Here, failure to pay attention to the road is not an action a reasonably prudent driver would do and doing so is in breach of the duty of care.
The plaintiff will then have to prove that the actual breach of care directly caused the victim’s harm. Following up with the example, the plaintiff would need to prove that the defendant’s actual car struck the deceased and not any other car. In case there was another vehicle or object that seriously injured the deceased before the defendant’s car struck them, the court will likely find that the defendant’s breach of duty did not cause harm directly to the victim.
If the deceased had some serious wounds or injuries and the defendant’s breach of duty caused the incident that led to the death of the victim, the court may find the defendant liable for the causation of harm. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the case, the issue of causation is quite complex to navigate on your own.
Along with the breach of duty and causation, the plaintiff will also have to demonstrate that the deceased did suffer damages. In case both the breach of duty and causation exist in a case, then damages are generally assumed for obvious reasons (the victim lost their life).
How Do You Start a Wrongful Death Claim in Arkansas?
The personal representative of the deceased’s estate can pursue compensation by filing a wrongful death claim. However, it’s important to file the claim as soon as possible, since there’s usually a time limit allowed for filing wrongful death claims as outlined by the Arkansas statute of limitations.
Arkansas has a statute of limitations of one year for wrongful death claims, which means that a wrongful death claim has to be filed within one year from the date of the victim’s death, assuming that it’s reasonably clear the negligence of a defendant (or their intentional actions) contributed to causing the death.
At Keith Law, we always encourage the following:
Determine If You Have A Claim
If the negligent behavior of another person or entity contributed to the death of a loved one, then you may have legal grounds for filing a wrongful death claim.
Collect and Preserve Evidence
To keep the defendant away from filing motions to dismiss your case, you need to have compelling evidence that shows how reckless of negligent their actions were in causing the accident and the death of your loved one.
Prepare a Formal Claim
This should ideally contain the identity of the defendant, the amount of compensation you are seeking, and the key components of your case.
File the Claim
This should be done according to the Arkansas court rules.
From experience, following these steps can be difficult and tedious, especially following the death of a loved one. An experienced wrongful death attorney from Keith Law can help you investigate whether you have a case, help you understand how the claims process usually works, and help protect your rights in the process.
Additionally, your attorney will investigate your case thoroughly, promptly collect the required evidence and ensure it’s well preserved, file the complaints on your behalf, and even represent you in a court of law or during settlement negotiations.
Get in Touch With A Rogers Wrongful Death Attorney Today!
The wrongful death attorneys from Keith Law understand the devastating impact the untimely loss of a loved one can have on a family. However, we think it’s still important to know that you have legal options to pursue compensation, and we can help you.
If you feel someone else’s negligence led to the death of your loved one, our wrongful death lawyers can help you seek the compensation your family needs and deserve to ease your financial burdens and help you find peace. Get in touch with our Rogers, AR, personal injury firm today for a free consultation and evaluation of your case.