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The Best Way to Handle Wrongful Death

It is natural for grieving families to seek some sort of compensation for loss of a loved one. These sought compensations aren’t always monetary but they provide some sort of closure or sense of justice especially when the loss can be attributed to the action (or lack thereof) of a person or group of people. It is pertinent at this point, to make a quick comparison for better understanding of the subject matter. The term ‘wrongful death’ is used in civil suits while ‘homicide, murder, manslaughter…’ is used in criminal suits. What this means is that either terminology, refers to the taking of life of an individual resulting either from the acts or omissions of another person or persons-artificial or natural respectively. It is general knowledge that when a crime is committed, it is a crime against the state and the prosecutor is most often than not, the Attorney General of the state. An individual cannot, except by a fiat of the Attorney General, institute a criminal suit against an alleged suspect. In criminal suits the likely result is imprisonment, death, or fines while in civil suits, the likely results are damages, declaratory orders or in rare instances, the offender may be committed to prison. As earlier stated, wrongful death is a facsimile of homicide and is a foreign concept to common law. It was recognised recently in the United Kingdom as a means through which relations/relatives of a deceased person, may institute a claim against a person alleged to have killed the deceased. Having understood the underpinnings of the term—wrongful death, the best way to handle this will be to sue, which obviously requires the services of a wrongful death lawyer. Wrongful death suits are by nature, really complex as such, special care and skill is an indispensable criterion of any legal practitioner handling it. These are points a lawyer should be mindful of when instituting a civil claim.

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1. Cause of Death:

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This includes the person alleged to have caused the death of the deceased and the way the deceased died. Wrongful death suits are mostly instituted against artificial persons who are not capable of being committed to prison. The lawyer, should advise the client on the wisdom in instituting a claim against the alleged suspect having recourse to the ‘depth’ of the suspects pocket and his ability to pay compensation if eventually awarded. The lawyer should also find out if the death of the deceased was partly his fault as this would enable him know what to claim as compensation. The Fatal Accidents Act of 1976[applicable in some parts of the UK – Scotland and Wales] for instance, provides that where the death of the deceased was because of contributory negligence, the court is bound to reduce the compensation proportionately.

2. Type of Claim


The lawyer has a duty to take into cognizance the type of claim he intends to institute. The person on whose behalf the claim is instituted, determines the claim to be instituted. The Fatal Accidents Act of 1976 makes provision for three types of claims and the persons entitled to bring the claims. They are;

a)dependency claims – to be brought by persons who were in some ways, dependent on the deceased at the time of his death. This includes a child below 18 years of age, a spouse, and persons who resided with the deceased before and at the time of his death.

b) bereavement claims – to be brought by persons who have suffered loss emotionally because of the deceased’s death.

c) funeral expenses claim – where any person has expended resources of funds in carrying out funeral rites for the deceased, he can bring a claim for reimbursement for the resources so expended.

3. Entitlement


This should do with the proper parties to the suit. In some jurisdictions, the law is that wrongful death suits should be instituted in the name of the executor or administrator of the deceased’s estate but where there is no named executor or administrator or the named personal representatives, fail to institute the claim within six months of the death of the deceased, the claim may be entitled in the name of any or all persons for whose benefit the claim would have been instituted.

4. Timing


Most jurisdictions such as in Northern Ireland, have but a statutory time bar on the institution of wrongful death suits. The Limitation [Northern Ireland] Order puts the limit at 3 years from the date of death or 3 years from the date of knowledge of the beneficiary of the action, of the cause of death of the deceased. Any action brought after the effluxion of time, will be statute barred.