Frequently Asked Questions
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Wrongful Death

  1. What is wrongful death?
  2. Who can bring a wrongful death case?
  3. How is the amount of damages determined?
  4. In a case with multiple heirs, how are damages divided?
  5. What is the Statute of Limitations for filing a claim for ???wrongful death in the State of Minnesota?
  6. Are punitive damages recoverable in wrongful death action?
  7. Are all state laws the same regarding wrongful death?
  8. Are the survivors entitled to recover damages for their emotional distress?
  9. What if one or more of the survivors who are entitled to bring a wrongful death case decide that they do not want to sue?
  10. What are the economic damages that the survivors are entitled to in a wrongful death case?
  11. Do I need an attorney to pursue a wrongful death case?
  12. Can the heirs hire separate attorneys?
  13. How quickly should I contact an attorney?

Questions & Answers

What is wrongful death?
Answer:
Wrongful Death is best described when a person’s death is caused by the wrongful act or negligence of another. Wrongful death is the basis for a lawsuit, a wrongful death action, against the party or parties who caused the wrongful death. Action may be filed on behalf of the members of the family who have lost the company and support of the deceased due to wrongful death.

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Who can bring a wrongful death case?
Answer:
Minnesota law designates certain survivors who are entitled to pursue a wrongful death case.
  • If the decedent was married, the spouse at the time of death can bring a lawsuit. If the decedent also had children, the children can also bring a lawsuit.
  • If the decedent was married but had no children, then the decedent's parents are allowed to bring a lawsuit.
  • Brothers and sisters are entitled to bring a wrongful death action if the decedent has no surviving children or parents.
  • If a young child dies, the parents are entitled to bring a wrongful death action.

The answer as to who exactly can bring a wrongful death action in any given case can be complex; therefore, anyone considering a wrongful death action should consult with an attorney.

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How is the amount of damages determined?
Answer:
Many things are considered, such as the decedent’s contributions in the past, their life expectancy at the time of their death, their health before the accident, their age, habits, occupation, past earnings and likely future earnings.

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In a case with multiple heirs, how are damages divided?
Answer:
If an agreement is not reached among the next-of-kin, a Court can make an apportionment.

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What is the Statute of Limitations for filing a claim for ???wrongful death in the State of Minnesota?
Answer:
If the death was caused by an intentional act constituting murder, a claim may be commenced any time after the death of the decedent. Any other action may be commenced within three years after the date of death. If the death resulted from professional negligence (such as medical malpractice) then the laws pertaining to medical malpractice apply.

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Are punitive damages recoverable in wrongful death action?
Answer:
In most states, a plaintiff may not recover punitive damages in a wrongful death action. There are some states, however, that do have specific statues that permit recovery of punitive damages. In Minnesota, punitive damages are recoverable in a wrongful death action if the conduct of the defendant warrants it.

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Are all state laws the same regarding wrongful death?
Answer:
No, there are many differences between each state's wrongful death laws. Determining the state in which you should bring a wrongful death action is a very important decision, because some states do not allow certain types of damage awards and/or may have different statutes of limitation that establish the timeframe within which you must file suit.

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Are the survivors entitled to recover damages for their emotional distress?
Answer:
Technically no. However, they may be entitled to recover damages losses such as counsel, guidance, aid, advice, comfort, assistance and protection the decedent might have given had (s) he lived.

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What if one or more of the survivors who are entitled to bring a wrongful death case decide that they do not want to sue?
Answer:
The law in the state of Minnesota all of the potential wrongful death claimants must be joined in one case. However, the law provides mechanisms for survivors who do not want to pursue the case to opt out of the case as long as there is an assurance to the potential defendants that they are signing away their rights.

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What are the economic damages that the survivors are entitled to in a wrongful death case?
Answer:
Although Minnesota Law generally speaks of “pecuniary loss” in wrongful death cases, compensation can include damages for such things as loss of support, past and future income, loss of companionship, guidance, advice, love and affection.

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Do I need an attorney to pursue a wrongful death case?
Answer:
In almost every wrongful death case, the potential plaintiffs should consult with an attorney. The law in this area is complex as to who is entitled to bring a case and who is entitled to a recovery, and will usually need to be sorted out by an attorney. Further, even in a case in which the decedent was killed by a person with a relatively low insurance policy limit, it is wise to seek the advice of an attorney because an investigation may reveal other potential defendants who are responsible for the death who are more capable of paying damages.

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Can the heirs hire separate attorneys?
Answer:
Yes, the individual heirs can retain separate attorneys which is sometimes necessary in cases in which the heirs are hostile to each other; however, even in this situation, the heirs should limit their hostility because it will ultimately driving down the entire value of the case.

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How quickly should I contact an attorney?
Answer:
It is generally a good ideal to contact an attorney subsequent to an accident. Witnesses need to be interviewed, measurements obtained, photographs obtained and so on. An attorney skilled in the handling of a personal injury cases will handle those matters for you and make certain that your rights are protected and preserved.

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