District of Columbia Wrongful Death Claims

David W. Hodges
David Hodges is a founding partner of Kennedy Hodges. He focuses his practice on personal injury claims.

The District of Columbia defines a wrongful death as one that is “caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of a person or corporation” in its code 16-2701. Once a loved one dies, relatives may pursue claims to receive compensation for losses that occurred due to the negligent actions—whether intentional or unintentional—that led to the loss of life.

The victim’s spouse or domestic partner receives primary responsibility for filing a wrongful death claim, however, according to D.C. law, his or her “next of kin,” such as a child, parent or sibling, may also file a suit if no spouse or domestic partner survives the deceased.

What Are My Options for Filing a Claim?

Legal action that may be taken against the party liable for a wrongful death includes wrongful death claims and survival action claims. The primary difference between these is that a wrongful death claim is used to recover compensation for damages that occurred as a direct result of the death itself, whereas survival actions can be filed for damages that accrued during the events leading up to the death—much like a personal injury claim that extends beyond the victim’s death. In the District of Columbia, both wrongful death and survival action claims may be pursued together for the same case.

If the wrongful death victim leaves a will, the recoveries from a wrongful death suit will go to the estate and be distributed according to the demands of the will. If no will was left behind, the specific amount that each party receives will depend upon how many parties are present and those parties’ familial relationship with the deceased. For example, in the event that no spouse, parent or child is present, the damages will be awarded entirely to the victim’s siblings.

What Can I Recover Damages for?

Any individual who qualifies to file a wrongful death claim may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Medical treatment, supplies, services, prescriptions and other related expenses
  • The cost of burial
  • Lost wages and employment-related benefits from the deceased’s income
  • Lost inheritance due to the suddenness of the event
  • Attorney fees and lawsuit costs
  • Other economic losses that resulted from the event

Statute of Limitations

To file a claim following a loved one’s death in the District of Columbia, you will need to do so within two years of the death. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if an instance of medical malpractice was discovered after the two-year period, relatives may still be able to take legal action for the neglect. If an individual is under the age of 18 at the time of the death or is incarcerated during that time, he or she may also receive a delay in the start of the two-year period. To be certain, you may wish to consult with an attorney who can examine your case fully and advise accordingly.

Seeking Mediation for Your Wrongful Death Claim

In some instances, the survivors of a deceased individual may wish to avoid the time-consuming, expensive and tedious courtroom process. An effective alternative to this option is mediation, which allows all parties to negotiate a settlement without interference from a jury. During a mediation you will have the opportunity to:

  • Establish a base of facts that justify the dollar amount of your claim
  • Discuss the other party’s argument and negotiate a settlement
  • Proceed to trial at any time during a mediation if no settlement can be reached

The Benefits of a Legal Advisor

Wrongful death cases can be complex and involve a long list of technical variables that may make or break your claim. In addition, it can be difficult and overwhelming to go up against major healthcare providers, product manufacturers or insurance companies alone. An experienced attorney can walk you through the process of identifying the key facets of your claim objectively, establishing a numerical value for your claim and negotiating the settlement in a reasonable, but firm manner. To find out more or to discuss your claim, contact the firm for a consultation at 855-947-0707.