If your loved one was killed in an accident, under the right circumstances, you may file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person who caused your loved one’s death.
Under Nebraska law, a “wrongful death” is a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another party if the act, neglect, or default would have allowed the deceased person to bring a personal injury claim if they had lived. Because the deceased person cannot bring the lawsuit on their own behalf, a wrongful death lawsuit is brought by the deceased person’s legal representative. The purpose of the lawsuit is to protect the interests of the deceased person’s estate and surviving family members who have suffered losses as a result of the death.
Nebraska law sets a two-year statute of limitations—the time after the accident by which the lawsuit must be filed. While two years might seem like a fairly long time, especially as you process your grief, it’s best to contact a competent Nebraska wrongful death attorney as soon as possible, as these cases can be complicated and take time to organize and file. If you file your lawsuit after more than two years have passed, a court will not hear your case, no matter how strong it is.
Filing the Lawsuit
A wrongful death lawsuit may be filed against the person who caused the death, or if that person also died in the incident, their estate.
It’s worth noting that a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action and is a completely separate matter from any criminal charges the government may file against the responsible party. This is meaningful because the burden of proof in a civil case is “a preponderance of the evidence”—the person bringing the suit must only show that it is more likely than not that the defendant caused the death.
On the other hand, if a person is charged with a crime relating to the same events, the government has to show beyond a reasonable doubt—a much higher burden of proof—that the person was responsible for the death. Even if a person is acquitted of the criminal charge, they can still be held civilly liable and owe the deceased person’s estate monetary damages.
Once you’ve met with and retained a wrongful death attorney, the business of gathering information and putting together your lawsuit begins. The first consideration is who to file the lawsuit against. Clearly, you should name the person who actually caused the death, but what if that person was working while it happened? Is it appropriate to also include the employer in your lawsuit?
A good attorney can help you navigate that question and ensure that you have sued the proper parties. If you sue the wrong defendant, that person can motion the court to dismiss your lawsuit entirely, and if the judge grants the motion, you must go back to the drawing board, which may cause you to run up against the statute of limitations.
If you prove the defendant in your lawsuit is liable for your loved one’s death, you may be awarded damages. The court may order that damages be paid to the family members or to the deceased person’s estate. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court may award some or all of the following types of damages.
- Medical bills – These are expenses related to the deceased person’s final injury or illness. They can include ambulance transportation, the cost of the initial hospital stay (surgeries, physician’s fees, lab tests, X-rays, etc.), as well as the cost of any therapy or rehabilitation the deceased was required to undergo before death.
- Funeral and burial expenses – The reasonable costs of conducting a funeral and laying the deceased to rest may be awarded.
- Lost wages – You may be entitled to the value of both the wages the deceased person lost after the injury and before their death, as well as those they could have earned, had they survived. Lost wages are more difficult to prove than medical or funeral costs for which you receive a bill, but it is possible to calculate a person’s future earnings by taking into consideration the deceased’s wages at the time of their death, as well as their potential for advancement, age, life expectancy, and the time value of money.
- Pain and suffering of the deceased – These damages are for the pain and suffering the deceased person endured during their final moments. Nebraska law does not allow family members to collect for their own pain and suffering, only for that of the deceased.
- Loss of companionship, comfort, care, and guidance – Depending on the family dynamic, the deceased’s family may be awarded this type of damages. This is intended to compensate the family for those intangible things the deceased provided their family members.
- Loss of household services – If the deceased provided services to their household such as childcare, grocery shopping, cleaning, lawn maintenance, or repairs, their family may be entitled to compensation for the cost of having to now pay someone else to perform those services.
Personal injury lawsuits are tried in front of juries. The jurors will decide both fault and the damages to be awarded. For damages other than medical expenses, funeral expenses, and lost wages, the judge will instruct the jury to consider things like the circumstances of the deceased’s person’s home life, whether or not there are children or a spouse involved, the age and well-being of family members, and other factors the judge feels are relevant to making a damages determination.
Calling a Nebraska Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help
Losing a loved one is devastating no matter what the circumstances. Losing a loved one due to another person’s fault carries with it additional emotions such as anger and resentment that add to the distress of losing your family member. While no amount of money can bring your loved one back, the law allows you to seek compensation for damages you’ve suffered as a result of their death.