Experiencing the death of a loved one is a terrible and traumatic experience, one that cannot simply be rectified by filing a lawsuit. Yet many people affected by these horrible tragedies are left without the financial and emotional support upon which they have relied their entire lives, and without which their lives will significantly change for the worse. As a result, the law provides for recourse for those affected by such incidents in what are known as wrongful death statutes.While wrongful death lawsuits tend to deal with motor vehicle accidents, they are by no means limited to such circumstances. Wrongful death claims may arise wherever negligent or reckless conduct resulted in the death of another person, and extend to mistakes in the medical context, accidents on trains or airplanes, criminal assaults, birthing injuries, liability arising from dangerous conditions on a person’s property, dangerous or defective products, and work-related injuries.
New Jersey’s wrongful death statute provides that only certain loved ones can collect from the one responsible for their loved one’s death in a wrongful death suit. Specifically, the statute provides that those who would inherit the deceased’s property by intestacy (in other words, assuming he or she died without a will) are the ones who may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Furthermore, the statute provides that those persons will collect individually in the same proportions they would have collected as heirs had the deceased died without a will. Those affected persons entitled to collect as a result of their loved one’s death can collect based upon economic loss resulting from the family’s loss of a breadwinner as well as the economic value of the care, guidance and companionship that the decedent would have provided his survivors but for his untimely passing.
It is important to distinguish wrongful death lawsuits from survival lawsuits, which are lawsuits brought to compensate for the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased person in the events leading up to his or her death, whereas wrongful death claims are intended to compensate the survivors of the decedent for the economic loss sustained as a result of the decedent’s untimely passing. Of course, in practice the same people who bring a wrongful death lawsuit may very well collect in a survival action, but there are differences when it comes to how the law views these claims, and circumstances where different people would collect on these claims. The wrongful death statute in New Jersey provides that the intestate heirs of the deceased will be compensated, but if a successful survival claim is brought, the proceeds from that claim will go to the executor of the deceased person’s estate. The executor will then distribute those funds according to the will of the deceased person, assuming a will exists, and the will may very well contain a provision that leaves those proceeds to a friend, a charity, or a more distant relative.
If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence or recklessness of another, you should speak with an attorney who understands New Jersey wrongful death law, and can effectively represent you in seeking compensation for injuries sustained.