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How Wrongful Death Claims Work

“Wrongful death” is a legal term. It means a person died because of another person (or company’s) bad actions.

This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the family members who suffer emotionally, psychologically and financially by the untimely death of a loved one.

A wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit, which is different from criminal charges. For example, if a drunk driver strikes and kills a pedestrian, the state can charge that driver with DUII and manslaughter. The pedestrian’s family could file a civil lawsuit for wrongful death.

The actions that lead to the death do not need to be deliberate, just negligent. If a doctor administers a patient the wrong drug, leading to that patient’s death, that could be a wrongful death claim.

Making a Wrongful Death Claim in Oregon

There is usually a time limit, or statute of limitations, for filing a lawsuit for a death.*

In Oregon, most wrongful death claims must be filed within three years of the injury that resulted in the victim’s death, and no more than three years after the date of death. This can vary, based on the type of injury the identity of the at-fault party, the age of the victim, and when the cause of the fatal injury was discovered.*

In order to make a wrongful death claim, an estate has to be opened with the court. Typically, a family member is appointed as the personal representative of the estate, and pursues the claim on behalf of the beneficiaries.

Generally, the spouse and/or children of the victim are the ones permitted to pursue a wrongful death claim. Sometimes, parents, grandparents, step-parents, and step-children can also be compensated.

It is crucial to file the legal paperwork to preserve and gather the necessary evidence very soon after the death.

In most cases, the victim’s family should contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.

What are Wrongful Death Damages?

“Damages” are a monetary award paid to a person as compensation for a loss or an injury.

Many factors influence the calculation of wrongful death damages. These factors may include economic damages, such as:

  • The victim’s medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • Estimated lost future income

And “non-economic damages,” which would include:

  • Pain and suffering of the victim from the time of the accident until the time of death
  • Loss of care, protection, guidance, advice, training, and nurturing
  • Loss of companionship

In Oregon, there is a $500,000 limit on non-economic damages in a wrongful death claim.**

In some cases, “punitive damages” may be available to punish the defendant for extreme negligence or intentional bad behavior.

No wrongful death lawsuit can undo what has happened, or bring back your loved one. And no amount of money can make up for that loss: it is simply the only tool we have, under the law, to try to compensate for your loss.

*This is general information and may not apply to your situation: you should talk to an attorney about statutes of limitation.

**This limit does not apply to all personal injury cases, only wrongful death claims.

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