Personal injury and wrongful death – what’s the difference between these two types of legal claims? Victims and families often wonder about their legal options when a loved one is injured or dies due to someone else’s negligence. Understanding the key differences between a personal injury lawsuit and a wrongful death claim is critical to pursuing compensation successfully. This article will explain the similarities, differences, and specifics of injury and wrongful death claims.
A personal injury and a wrongful death can result from the same accident. Both claims seek compensation for damages caused by another party’s negligence or illegal actions. However, there are important distinctions between these two types of legal cases that injury and wrongful death victims should understand when filing a claim.
What is a Personal Injury Claim?
A personal injury claim is a legal case filed to seek compensation for any injury a person suffers due to someone else’s negligence. Common examples include injuries sustained in vehicle accidents, slip and fall accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and other types of negligence.
The injured victim, referred to as the plaintiff, must be able to prove:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care that was breached
- This breach directly caused their injuries and damages
- Quantifiable monetary losses, including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, etc.
Personal injury claims must be filed within the statute of limitations, typically within two years from the date of the accident or injury. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help victims recover the maximum compensation they deserve through these cases.
How a Personal Injury Claim Works
The first step in a personal injury case is for the injured victim to contact a personal injury law firm about their potential claim. The law firm will investigate the accident circumstances to determine if negligence caused the victim’s injuries.
Common examples of negligence in personal injury claims include:
- Car accidents caused by a reckless or impaired driver
- Medical malpractice, such as surgical errors and misdiagnoses
- Defective products that cause injuries
- Slip and fall accidents occurring due to unsafe premises
If the law firm determines there is a valid basis for a personal injury claim, they will file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party on the victim’s behalf. The lawsuit will seek compensation for all the victim’s damages like:
- Medical expenses for treatment, hospitalization, therapy
- Lost income from missed work due to injuries
- Future loss of earnings if the injuries impair the future ability to work
- Pain and suffering
Injury victims must understand the statute of limitations for filing personal injury claims. In most states, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident or injury. This means any personal injury claim must be filed within two years, or the right to sue may be lost forever. An experienced personal injury lawyer can guide the statute of limitations.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
A wrongful death claim is a specific legal case filed when someone’s negligent or wrongful actions cause another person’s death. This type of personal injury lawsuit is brought by family members or the estate/personal representative of the deceased individual against the at-fault party.
Wrongful death claims seek compensation for damages that result from the person’s death, which may include:
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of financial support
- Funeral and burial costs
- Pain and suffering of the deceased
- Lost inheritance
- Loss of parental guidance
How a Wrongful Death Claim Works
A wrongful death case begins when grieving family members contact a law firm after losing a loved one due to negligence or wrongful actions. Like personal injury cases, the law firm will investigate the circumstances behind the death.
If there is a valid wrongful death claim, the law firm will file a lawsuit on behalf of the family members. This lawsuit seeks compensation for the tremendous loss of their family member.
Damages available in wrongful death lawsuits may include:
- Loss of financial support the deceased provided
- Loss of household services the deceased provided
- Loss of love, companionship, and guidance
- Funeral and burial costs
- Pain and suffering of the deceased before death
The statute of limitations is also crucial for wrongful death claims. But the timeline is slightly different than personal injury claims.
In most states, a wrongful death claim must be filed within 2 years from the date of death. However, some states allow 1-3 years. Suppose the negligent party’s misconduct was not immediately known. In that case, the date of discovery of the wrongful actions may become the new date from which the statute of limitations is calculated.
An experienced wrongful death attorney can guide the timeline for filing a claim in your state.
Steps in Personal Injury vs. Wrongful Death Case
The initial process for investigating and filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim shares some common steps. But important legal differences emerge if a valid case moves forward to an actual lawsuit.
Personal Injury Claim Steps
- Injured person contacts law firm about potential personal injury claim
- Law firm investigates circumstances of accident and resulting injuries
- If valid claim, lawsuit filed against negligent party seeking compensation
Wrongful Death Claim Steps
- Family contacts law firm about potential wrongful death claim after losing loved one
- Law firm investigates circumstances behind accused party’s negligence
- If valid claim, wrongful death lawsuit filed by family members seeking compensation
While the early research and investigation phase is similar, the parties involved in filing the lawsuit differ for each type of claim. The injured victim themselves will file a personal injury lawsuit, while the family members file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Damages Sought in Each Type of Claim
The types of compensation available in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits also differ because of the distinct losses suffered in each scenario.
Personal injury lawsuits seek compensation for victim’s:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
These damages directly reimburse the injured victim for their healthcare costs, lost income, and reduced quality of life resulting from the accident. Awards may also punish the negligent party through punitive damages in egregious cases.
Wrongful death lawsuits seek compensation for loss of:
- Financial support
- Funeral expenses
Here, the damages focus on losses experienced by the victim’s family resulting from the death of their loved one. This includes lost wages and financial contributions, loss of companionship, grief, and funeral costs.
What’s the Difference Between These Two Claims?
While personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits share some similarities, there are key differences injury victims should understand between these two types of cases:
- Who Can File – For personal injury, the victim files the claim. For wrongful death, specified family members or the estate files on behalf of the deceased individual.
- Damages Available – Personal injury claims compensate for the victim’s losses. Wrongful death compensates for losses the survivors experience from the death.
- Statute of Limitations – Most personal injury claims must be filed within two years. Wrongful death claims typically must be filed within two years from the date of death.
- Negligence Proof – Personal injury claims must prove injuries and losses. Wrongful death must prove the defendant’s negligence directly caused the death.
Major Similarities Between These Two Types of Claims
While there are important differences, personal injury and wrongful death claims share some significant similarities:
- Both are filed after injuries or death result from someone else’s negligence.
- The plaintiff must prove the defendant owed a duty of care that was breached.
- There must be a direct causal link between the breach of duty and the damages suffered.
- The plaintiff/claimants can recover full compensation for all losses if successful.
- Experienced attorneys assist with these cases by determining viable legal claims, gathering evidence, negotiating settlements, and taking the case to trial if necessary.
Steps to Take After An Accident and Injury
If you or a loved one is injured or dies in an accident caused by negligence, these steps should be taken immediately:
- Seek necessary medical treatment.
- Document evidence from the accident scene.
- Report the incident to insurance companies.
- Discuss potential claims with an attorney.
- File the applicable legal claims on time.
An injury law firm can advise which claims should be pursued based on the specific details of the accident and losses suffered. They can handle the legal process so victims and families can focus on recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How long do I have to file a personal injury or wrongful death claim?
A: The timeframe for filing a personal injury or wrongful death claim varies depending on the jurisdiction. In most cases, you must file a personal injury claim within two years of the date of the injury and a wrongful death claim within a similar timeframe from the date of your loved one’s death.
- My spouse was injured in a car accident that was not his fault. What should I do?
Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident to discuss filing a personal injury claim. This allows the attorney to preserve evidence, investigate the crash, and determine legal options based in tort law to recover damages for your spouse’s bodily injuries sustained.
Q: What should I do if I’ve been injured in a car or motorcycle accident?
A: If you have been injured in a car or motorcycle accident, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. You should also gather any evidence you can, such as photographs of the scene, contact information of witnesses, and information from the other party involved.
Q: Is there a time limit to file a wrongful death claim?
A: Yes, there is a statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. The time limit varies by state, but it is typically between one to three years from the date of the person’s death. It is important to consult with a lawyer to ensure you file within the appropriate timeframe.
Q: Can I pursue a personal injury claim if the injured person dies?
A: Yes, if the injured person passed away, their representative can still pursue a personal injury claim on their behalf. The personal representative steps into the injured person’s shoes and continues the legal claim based on the injuries caused.