Michigan Wrongful Death Attorneys
If you’ve recently faced the loss of a loved one in an accident, you’re no doubt grieving, angry, and confused. You and your family are facing a tragic loss. You may also be facing a financial loss with medical bills, funeral expenses, and the loss of income from a family provider. These burdens aren’t something you should bear alone. If someone else was responsible for your loved one’s death because of negligence or wrongdoing, you might be entitled to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of your loved one’s estate and family members.
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It’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible to preserve evidence and meet court filing deadlines. Moss & Colella is Detroit’s most trusted wrongful death law firm, known for its caring personal service and excellent results. Call us to schedule a free consultation and find out if you have a case.
What is Wrongful Death?
The Michigan Wrongful Death Act defines wrongful death in the state of Michigan.
Whenever the death of a person, injuries resulting in death […] shall be caused by wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another, and the act, neglect, or fault is such as would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages, the person who or the corporation that would have been liable, if death had not ensued, shall be liable to an action for damages, […]
In plain language, you may be able to file a wrongful death suit if your loved one dies due to the negligence, wrongful act, or fault of someone else. And, if your loved one had survived, they would have been entitled to file an action to recover damages for their injuries.
Accidental Death Facts
Accidental death is one of the most common causes of death for people between the age of one and 42. Motor vehicle accidents in Michigan are the leading killer among children, teens, and younger adults (ages 5 to 34) and among the top ten causes of death for all ages. More than 30,000 people are killed in automobile accidents across the country each year. Accidental death is not unique to car crashes. “Accidents” in general, are the third most common cause of death in the United States. Most of these accidental deaths are preventable accidents such as car crashes, falls, drowning, or product failures. But when a loved one dies from a preventable incident caused by someone else’s negligence, it’s a tragedy for your family. You shouldn’t have to bear the financial burden for someone else’s negligence.
The rescue devices at an apartment complex swimming pool were not up to code, leading to the drowning of an eight-year-old girl.
An unarmed woman was wrongfully shot multiple times inside of her vehicle by the Dearborn Police Department causing her death.
Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
Michigan law does limit the time to file a wrongful death lawsuit to three years after the date of the accident. This time limit is called the statute of limitations, and the courts use this limit to ensure that individuals and companies won’t face lawsuits years after an accident when many of the witnesses and much of the evidence of the accident may be lost. It’s important to distinguish the date of death from the accident date for a wrongful death case, especially if you’re pursuing the case after the three-year statute of limitations for a personal injury case has expired.
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When you allege medical malpractice as the cause of death, the court may extend the statute of limitations based on the “discovery rule.” The discovery rule permits filing a lawsuit six months from when the patient discovered or should have discovered the malpractice. For example, if a surgeon left an instrument in a patient, causing an infection, the patient may not have symptoms until years later.
For cases involving minors, the statute of limitations begins when the person turns eighteen. The various overlapping statutes of limitations that apply to wrongful death cases in Michigan can be tricky, and many exceptions can apply to particular cases. That’s why it’s important to contact a wrongful death attorney as soon as possible if you suspect that negligent actions have caused the death of a family member. If you fail to file a wrongful death lawsuit within the time limit, the court may refuse to hear your claim.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The Michigan Wrongful Death Act allows close family members to file suit for wrongful death after losing a loved one. Under the statute, a personal representative of the deceased’s estate must bring the suit. Within 30 days of initiating the lawsuit, the personal representative must serve notice on anyone who might be entitled to damages under the statute.
People entitled to damages for the wrongful death of a loved one include the same people who would likely be eligible to inherit all or part of the deceased’s estate under Michigan’s estate laws. While a spouse and children are typically eligible, the definition of people who may receive damages under Michigan law is broader than that. Possible damage beneficiaries can include:
- “The deceased’s spouse, children, descendants, parents, grandparents, brothers, and sisters,” or, if none of these people are still alive, the people entitled to inherit the estate under Michigan’s laws concerning those who die without a valid will in place;
- The children of the deceased’s spouse;
- People who are devisees under the will of the deceased, meaning someone designated in a will to inherit some of the deceased’s property or are beneficiaries of a trust under the will.
Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims
Wrongful death claims can arise from negligence on the part of someone else, medical malpractice, or an intentional act that caused your loved one’s death. Some common types of negligence-based wrongful death claims include:
- Motor vehicle accidents: Motor vehicle accidents can include car crashes, motorcycle accidents, pedestrians and bicyclists hit by vehicles, and truck crashes. The lion’s share of motor vehicle accidents resulting in death involve drugs, alcohol, or distracted driving.
- Medical malpractice: Medical errors can sometimes lead to the loss of a loved one, including misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication errors, emergency room errors, anesthesia mistakes, and a failure to make a diagnosis.
- Poisonings or drug overdoses: Poisoning can often happen when children gain access to chemicals or medications or when medical professionals prescribe incorrect medication, incorrect dosage, or contraindicated medications.
- Workplace accidents: Workplace fatalities can involve many accidents, including crush injuries, falling, falling objects, equipment malfunctions, exposure to hazardous chemicals, and motor vehicle accidents.
- Nursing home negligence and abuse: Our elderly and disabled loved ones are often the most vulnerable. This can include failing to diagnose or treat bedsores, dehydration, improper nutrition, failure to supervise patients, and failure to provide medical treatment.
- Defective products: Defective products that can give rise to a wrongful death suit can include cars with defective safety equipment, design errors, manufacturing flaws, or problems with marketing or instructional materials.
- Slip and fall accidents: Accidents caused by missing banisters, broken stairs, insufficient lights, and other types of premises liability.
- Construction accidents: Construction site accidents where unsafe conditions cause the death of workers, bystanders, or guests on the construction site.
- Sports and recreation accidents: Accidents caused by unsafe premises or improper supervision of dangerous activities such as jet skiing, swimming, boating, archery, and hunting.
- Intentional killings: A death that occurs due to a lack of security in a hotel, apartment building, parking lot, or business. A wrongful death claim could also arise out of other crimes or assaults.
- Unlawful use of deadly force by police officers: A death that occurs when police officers fail to follow nationally recognized policies and procedures for safely apprehending a subject or confronting a citizen.
Wrongful death claims may accompany other types of legal actions, such as a personal injury claim or a criminal action brought by the state of Michigan.
Proving Wrongful Death
Wrongful death involves a death caused by any “wrongful act, neglect, or guilt of another” that would have allowed your loved one to file a personal injury lawsuit if they had lived. To prove wrongful death at trial, you’ll need to show your loved one died due to a negligent or wrongful act of the defendant, including:
- The defendant had a duty to take reasonable care to prevent your loved one from being harmed.
- The defendant breached their duty of care through negligence or a wrongful act.
- That breach of the defendant’s duty was the proximate or direct cause of your loved one’s death.
- The defendant’s wrongful or negligent act caused you and your family damages because of the loss of your loved one.
The standard used at trial to prove wrongful death will be the “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that it is more likely than not that the defendant or defendants are responsible for your loved one’s death. This varies from the standard used in criminal trials, which is guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, someone facing criminal charges for your loved one’s death can simultaneously face a civil wrongful death suit from the deceased’s estate and family.
To succeed with a wrongful death claim, there must be evidence to support each case element. For example, in a car accident resulting in death, useful evidence might include:
- A police report indicating that the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- A witness that saw the defendant drive through a red light without stopping;
- A witness that smelled the alcohol on the defendant’s breath after the accident; or
- A surveillance video showing the red light while the defendant passed through it.
If a person dies from a ceiling collapsing on them in a rental apartment, some evidence to prove negligence that resulted in wrongful death might include:
- Photos of the ceiling in poor condition before the accident;
- Letters to the landlord complaining of the condition; or
- An email from the landlord promising to repair the condition.
Each case is unique, so it’s important to hire a wrongful death attorney that knows how to quickly begin an investigation to uncover and obtain all the evidence necessary to prove your case.
Wrongful Death Damages
The Michigan Wrongful Death Act also defines the damages you may recover in a wrongful death suit:
In every action under this section, the court or jury may award damages as the court or jury shall consider fair and equitable, under all the circumstances, including reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses for which the estate is liable; reasonable compensation for the pain and suffering, while conscious, undergone by the deceased during the period intervening between the time of the injury and death; and damages for the loss of financial support and the loss of the society and companionship of the deceased.
You can expect to potentially recover both economic and non-economic damages in your suit. Economic damages include:
- Medical bills your loved one incurred before dying, including hospital and emergency medical care;
- Funeral and burial expenses the estate would incur;
- Property damage losses incurred by the deceased as part of the incident leading to their wrongful death; and
- Loss of financial support, including future wages.
Non-economic damages may include:
- Loss of society and companionship of the deceased, and
- Pain and suffering your loved one experienced while conscious before they died.
Steps to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Michigan
Your first step in filing a wrongful death lawsuit will be discussing your case with an experienced Michigan wrongful death lawyer. Your lawyer will help you evaluate your claim and help you with the next steps, including petitioning the probate court to appoint a personal representative for the estate who can file suit on behalf of the estate and family members. Your lawyer will also help:
- Determine which family members can file a claim and which family members have priority claims,
- Filing a Summons and Complaint in the circuit county court under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act within three years of the date of death,
- Notifying other family members who may have a claim,
- The damages the estate and family members may be able to recover,
- Filing a case,
- Negotiating for potential settlements,
- Preparing for and conducting the trial,
- Asking the court to disburse the settlement or award, and
- Manage the procedures for disbursing an award to the eligible family members.
How Long Does a Wrongful Death Case Take?
How long your wrongful death lawsuit takes depends largely on the facts and circumstances of your case and the basis of legal liability. For example, medical malpractice claims can be much more complex than a car accident, involving filing a Notice of Intent to File Suit and obtaining affidavits from board-certified medical experts. A wrongful death claim may also involve insurance companies, particularly product liability, medical malpractice, and car crash claims. When multiple parties are involved, negotiations can take longer, as can trial prep and the trial itself. But a skilled Michigan wrongful death attorney can evaluate your case and give you a better idea of possible timelines for your wrongful death lawsuit.
How Much Can I Expect from a Wrongful Death Settlement?
No hard and fast rule determines a damage award from a wrongful death suit. Each case will depend on the highly specific facts related to the accident, the age of your loved one, their occupation, economic damages, and more. Some hypothetical situations might include:
- Economic damages may be very substantial if your loved one had a high income or survived for years requiring a great deal of medical care and rehabilitation.
- Although a retired person may not be able to make a claim of lost earnings, the family of a loved one may still be entitled to substantial compensation for the loss of consortium (i.e., love and companionship) for the wrongful death of a close or immediate family member.
- The death of a child or minor may also result in substantial compensation despite not being able to establish a specific wage or economic damage claim. The life expectancy of a child together with economic indicators favoring a potential earning capacity can lead to significant wrongful death damages.
- The family of a model or athlete that died in their prime could have a claim for millions of dollars just for lost earnings.
In addition to the factors set forth above, the value of a wrongful death case will largely depend on insurance coverage limits. The amount of available insurance covering the person or entity responsible for a death will often dictate the settlement of a wrongful death claim. A skilled Michigan wrongful death and personal injury lawyer can evaluate your claim and guide you on what you may expect.
Many attorneys will offer a free consultation and, if you retain them, will work on a contingency fee basis. This means that you won’t pay a fee unless your attorney recovers compensation on your behalf. Your attorney will then take a percentage of your settlement, agreed upon at the beginning of the attorney-client relationship. How much you will pay from your settlement will never be a surprise.
Who Receives the Settlement?
People receiving the settlement from a wrongful death suit will typically include close family members such as:
- A spouse,
- Children of the deceased’s spouse,
- Devisees under the deceased’s will,
- Beneficiaries of a trust created by the deceased’s will, and
- Anyone entitled to inherit under the deceased’s estate.
How are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?
If the estate obtains a judgment or award in a wrongful death lawsuit, the estate’s personal representative will file a motion with the court for permission to distribute the proceeds. The court will then schedule a hearing. The personal representative will then notify all the people who may be eligible for damages, just as they did when initiating the wrongful death action in court.
After the hearing, the court can order payment of “the reasonable medical, hospital, funeral, and burial expenses of the decedent for which the estate is liable.” The court will also order the distribution of the damages for pain and suffering to the people eligible to recover damages under the statute, including immediate family members and the deceased’s estate. The jury will typically decide the equitable distribution of these damages to family members in proportion to each person’s relative damage.
If you may be entitled to damages from the loss of a loved one, you must present a claim to the estate’s personal representative on or before the date set for the court to hear the motion to distribute the proceeds of the wrongful death award. You must also notify the lawyer for the personal representative of any “material facts” you have that may justify a claim for damages within 60 days of receiving notice of the wrongful death suit.Once the court orders disbursement of the award, you will typically receive a check from your attorney.
Surviving Spouse Claims
The jury instructions the court will give during trial directly address wrongful death claims by a surviving spouse. The instruction allows the jury to determine the amount that will “reasonably, fairly and adequately compensate” you as a surviving spouse for:
- Necessary medical care, treatment, and services the deceased incurred,
- The reasonable value of the services you have been deprived of,
- The reasonable value of the loss of companionship, society, and sexual relationship you had with the deceased,
- The amount of money that will compensate you as a surviving spouse for these elements in the future, considering how long the loss would last and the length of time each spouse might otherwise live.
However, the amounts awarded by a jury must be based on evidence and can’t be punitive. The verdict must be solely to compensate you as a surviving spouse, not punish the defendant.
Why You Should Hire Moss & Colella
If you’ve faced the loss of a loved one because of someone else’s fault, negligence, or wrongdoing, you don’t have to face this alone. You may be entitled to a large monetary award for economic and non-economic losses. You need an experienced Michigan wrongful death attorney that can thoroughly and quickly investigate every aspect of your claim and preserve evidence to maximize the value of your case. Moss and Colella is the Detroit personal injury firm that goes the extra mile for every client. Call (248) 886-6124 to schedule a free consultation or contact us online and find out whether you’re entitled to collect damages for losing your family member.