Surviving a Wrongful Death Victim: What You Need to Know

Gabriel A. Assaad
Partner Gabriel Assaad represents victims of negligence and medical malpractice nationwide.

Losing a loved one to the reckless, negligent or criminal actions of another can lead to complex legal battles that can be difficult to navigate. To receive the most compensation for your loved one’s untimely death, you will need to understand your legal options and how they apply to your specific case. One crucial distinction that survivors of wrongful death victims will need to understand is the difference between wrongful death claims versus survival action claims.

What Is a Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death is any loss of life that has occurred due to the negligence of another. The factors leading up to this death can include:

  • Faulty products causing slips, falls, vehicle crashes, fatal injuries or non-fatal injuries with complications that result in death
  • Employees or individuals working on behalf of a healthcare provider or business owner acting negligently

In the District of Columbia, a wrongful death claim allows the immediate family of the deceased to seek compensation for the loss of life. Those eligible for compensation include the spouse or domestic partner, siblings, parents or children of the deceased. These individuals have two years to file a claim under the D.C. statute of limitations. In some cases, the two-year timeline to file a claim for a wrongful death begins upon discovery of the negligent action or event that allegedly caused the death, which could be months—or even years—following the death itself.

A wrongful death claim allows these individuals to file a claim for financial losses and damages because of the wrongful death itself, such as:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Wages lost due to the loss of the deceased’s income
  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of inheritance due to the timing of the death
  • Damages for mental anguish and other non-economic damages
  • Punitive damages

Survival Action

In a survival action, the personal injury claims from an accident leading up to a wrongful death survive the deceased. Beneficiaries are entitled to the remaining amount of compensation after all of the estate’s debts have been repaid. If there is no beneficiary, other relatives may file survival action claims. Compensation may be awarded to survival action victims for:

  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering

In both cases, relatives are unable to seek compensation for grief and mental anguish caused by the death. However, there is no numerical limit to the amount of compensation a party may seek in either event.

Can I Pursue Survival Action AND Wrongful Death Claims for the Same Event? In the District of Columbia, survivors of an individual who died in a wrongful death may seek compensation under both wrongful death and survival action claims for the same case. This varies by state, however, and laws in Virginia and Maryland may differ.

The Many Fields of Personal Injury Law

Personal injury law encompasses a wide variety of fields and disciplines. Causes of wrongful deaths can include:

  • Medical malpractice
  • Truck driver neglect
  • Manufacturing errors and other products liability matters
  • Pharmaceutical errors
  • Legal malpractice
  • Work-related deaths
  • Law enforcement interactions
  • Criminal actions

Because of the complex nature of wrongful death cases, survivors of the deceased may see significant benefits from working with an attorney. An attorney can also help his or her client negotiate in a mediation.

Mediation and Wrongful Death Claims

A mediation is a pre-court discussion that allows both parties to negotiate the terms of a settlement, prior to facing interference from a courtroom setting. In many cases, disputes are able to resolve quickly and efficiently in this early stage, with no courtroom time necessary. However, if no settlement is reached in the mediation process one or both parties may opt to move the case to court.

Whether you’re considering pursuing a claim for a survival action or a wrongful death, it is important to understand each option and how it relates to your specific case. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process and help you identify the best option for you. To learn more, visit our legal blog.