Louisiana Wrongful Death Lawyers
Losing a loved one is never easy, but it can be especially overwhelming when their death is the result of someone else’s negligence or illegal activity. A family in this situation must not only deal with the unexpected tragedy but also the financial burden of costly medical and funeral expenses. And if the loved one’s income was partially or solely responsible for supporting the family, the situation can be even more stressful.
Fortunately, in the case of a wrongful death, a family can take legal action against the responsible party to find a semblance of justice for their loss and to recoup financial compensation for expenses, lost income, as well as emotional pain and suffering. Although this doesn’t take away the pain of losing a close family member, it does relieve the financial burden that their death created.
However, families in this situation have a limited timeframe in which to file a wrongful death lawsuit, or else they may lose the opportunity to receive fair compensation. It’s therefore crucial that families understand their legal rights and act quickly to acquire legal experts to guide them through the process and to represent their interests.
Lunsford, Baskin, & Priebe are experts in wrongful death litigation. We work with clients to help them understand their legal rights, gather crucial evidence, and get the compensation they deserve. Call 504-788-2994 for a free consultation.
What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death is caused by another person or entity who has acted negligently or intentionally. As opposed to an event in which a person dies from natural causes, a natural disaster, or their own poor judgment, a wrongful death can be traced to a responsible party. It must then be proven that the person at fault was careless in some way or that they demonstrated a disregard for the law or for standard procedures.
In some instances, the person at fault may have intentionally caused an accident or injury that resulted in death. For instance, murder is an example of wrongful death. Similarly, if someone intentionally causes a car accident, it would also be an example of wrongful death that stemmed from an intentional act.
However, not all wrongful deaths are intentional. More often, accidents happen as a result of negligence or failure to follow standard procedures or exercise due caution, which puts that person at fault. This might include hazing activities on a college campus, workplace conditions that aren’t up to code, a vehicle operator who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or a doctor who doesn’t follow established healthcare laws.
Some of the most common wrongful death accidents include:
- Car accidents
- Bike accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Motorboat accidents
- Plane crashes
- Medical malpractice
- Accidents that occur in the workplace or a construction site
- Drownings in a swimming pool
- Accidents that occur the liable person’s property
- Attacks from vicious pets
- Accidental poisoning or overdose
- Abuse or neglect that occurs in a nursing home
- Products that are defective in some way
- Assault that leads to death
Every wrongful death will have its own unique circumstances that must be investigated to fully understand the extent of liability as well as other contributing factors.
For an incident to qualify for a wrongful death lawsuit, the family must also be able to demonstrate some sort of financial loss that resulted from their loved one’s death. Finally, there must be close family members who decide to file the wrongful death claim. Without the existence of a family that is seeking financial compensation, a wrongful death lawsuit doesn’t exist.
Importantly, a wrongful death lawsuit is not a criminal trial. It is separate from any criminal charges that a person might face, even concerning the same event. In the case of a criminal trial, the state would bring charges against the accused. However, a civil trial is brought about by individuals—family members, in the case of a wrongful death lawsuit. In the event that a person is charged with a crime, the criminal trial would come first, in which the defendant could face legal consequences, including jail time. If the person is found guilty, it significantly strengthens the civil case, which focuses more on monetary compensation to help the grieving family.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?
Only close family members can file a wrongful death claim in Louisiana. If the person has a surviving spouse or children, those individuals would have priority to file a claim. However, if the victim didn’t have a spouse or children, the parents could file the claim. Or, in the event the parents are deceased, the victim’s siblings would receive priority, followed by the grandparents.
It’s also common for a representative or an executive of the deceased person’s estate to file the claim on behalf of the surviving family members. The closer the family members are to the deceased, the more likely they are to receive a favorable verdict. Individuals with a more distant relationship or who aren’t technically “family” would be less likely to gain full compensation.
How It Works: Steps of a Wrongful Death Claim
When a family begins the process of acquiring legal representation and filing a wrongful death claim, there are several steps involved:
- Gathering evidence. This would include medical and autopsy records about the cause of death as well as any contributing factors. It would also include evidence about the person who was responsible for the incident, particularly any actions that may have contributed to the wrongful death. To that end, evidence might include surveillance footage, pictures, and important documents. It would also be important to obtain expert and eyewitness testimony.
- Deciding liability. Once all possible evidence has been collected, a careful review helps determine whether there is a viable case against the accused. Though the standard of proof in a civil case is not as high as in a criminal case, it is still up to the plaintiff to prove the accused is at fault.
- Determining the value of the claim. This step is an evaluation of the family’s financial loss that resulted from their loved one’s death. This includes any medical bills or funeral expenses as well as any income or health benefits that the deceased would have earned. It also includes financial compensation for the emotional pain and suffering the family has experienced.
- Negotiating with insurance companies. When an accident occurs, the insurance company of the person at fault will go through its normal investigation process to evaluate liability and assess damages. In some cases, the company will offer a settlement, and the family’s legal representatives will help them through the negotiation process.
- Filing the wrongful death lawsuit. If the family doesn’t accept a settlement offer, their lawyers will file the wrongful death lawsuit with the appropriate court, which would begin the process of a civil trial.
- Completing court proceedings. The trial would be focused on providing evidence to the judge or jury to demonstrate that the defendant acted in a negligent or willful manner to cause the death. Both sides would testify for witnesses and experts to evaluate liability as well as the compensation amount.
- Collecting compensation. If the family wins the wrongful death lawsuit, they will be awarded a certain amount of money. The defendant’s insurance company will write the check to the family’s lawyers, who will deduct their established fees and make any other payments to expert witnesses or consultants. They will then distribute the remainder of the settlement to the family. In some cases, money might be distributed in a series of payments as opposed to one lump sum.
Louisiana Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations
In Louisiana, there is a statute of limitations on wrongful death lawsuits to ensure that relevant physical and eyewitness evidence still exists. If too much time passes following an event, the strength of evidence could deteriorate, which diminishes the likelihood of a fair trial. Thus, according to Louisiana law, the family of the deceased has a one-year period in which to file a wrongful death claim.
Some exceptions to this statute exist in special circumstances. For instance, if new evidence is discovered, or if crucial evidence was deliberately withheld during the investigation period, the family might still be able to file their claim after the one-year deadline. Other exceptions might be granted if the medical examiner discovers a different cause of death or if particular products or medications are recalled that were instrumental in the person’s death.
This is crucial for family members to remember as they deal with the financial and emotional aftermath of their loved one’s death. Though it might be difficult amidst their grief and adjustment period to think about legal action, if the family misses the one-year deadline, they would lose the opportunity to receive the financial compensation they deserve. Obtaining legal representation is especially helpful in this period because it takes the burden off of the family and allows the legal process to move forward.
Seeking Compensation for Financial and Emotional Damages
In a wrongful death lawsuit, the family must be able to prove that they have incurred financial damages as a result of their loved one’s death. When calculating what “fair” compensation might look like, a family should consider their financial loss in several different ways.
This process would start with considering immediate expenses that the family has faced as a result of the death, including:
- Medical bills that resulted from the incident. Any sort of expense from a doctor’s examination, medical testing, surgeries, hospitalization, medication, life support, or any life-saving technology or procedures would be included in the claim.
- Funeral expenses. The cost of using a funeral space, paying a pastor to deliver the eulogy, and paying for special services a funeral parlor provides would qualify for compensation.
- Burial expenses. The cost of a casket, burial plot, vault, and digging services would be included. Alternatively, cremation services and the cost of an urn would be added.
Financial damages also include loss of future income that the deceased would have earned to help care for and give security to the family. There are several important considerations:
- Lost wages. This aspect of compensation considers the annual income of the deceased, multiplied by the number of years that person would have continued to work.
- Lost earning potential. This looks more closely at a person’s potential to acquire a well-paying job based on education, training, and other qualifications. This area might also consider the likelihood of a person receiving incremental raises in their income or promotions to higher-paying positions.
- Loss of benefits. A fair compensation would also consider the benefits that the family would have received as a result of their loved one’s work, including medical insurance as well as retirement contributions and investments.
- Lost inheritance. Considering the deceased person’s lost income and earning potential, the family would receive a much lower inheritance than they would have otherwise.
- Home maintenance and childcare costs. Often with the loss of a parent or spouse, the family must spend additional money for services that the deceased person would have otherwise provided, including home maintenance projects or childcare.
When considering fair and accurate compensation related to lost income, benefits, and inheritance, wrongful death lawyers might consult with economic specialists to provide more accurate estimates that take into account salary benchmarks in a particular field as well as the standard of living in a particular community.
The family of the deceased can also ask for compensation for emotional pain and suffering that resulted from the loss of their loved one. These are much less tangible and often more difficult consequences, such as:
- Loss of companionship. In this case, the spouse or close family members would ask for compensation for the loss of physical and emotional affection.
- Loss of care and support. In addition to love and companionship, the family also loses the benefit of receiving care, guidance, and support from their loved ones.
- Emotional pain and suffering. The most obvious struggle that results from the death of a loved one relates directly to the grieving process that the family must go through.
In some cases, the court might also award punitive damages that increase the amount the defendant must pay. Punitive damages are intended to further punish an individual or entity for behavior that is especially negligent or unethical.
When considering the amount of financial compensation to include in the lawsuit, each of these areas would be considered. Determining the value of a wrongful death claim is a complex process that requires expertise in several different areas. However, careful analysis of financial and emotional damages will help the family ensure that they receive fair compensation.
How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You Build a Strong Case
A wrongful death lawsuit can be complicated, which is why it’s important for a family to get help from a wrongful death lawyer with experience and expertise in this type of litigation. Especially in the aftermath of a tragic loss of a loved one, family members are likely to find it difficult to give their full attention to the details of the case, particularly when it comes to collecting sufficient evidence against the accused. Obtaining legal representation relieves the family from these burdens.
Importantly, a wrongful death lawyer knows how to conduct a thorough investigation and collect all of the evidence that would be pertinent to the case. The lawyer is the one to obtain the accident report, identify key experts and eyewitnesses who can provide relevant testimony, review the autopsy report with the medical examiner, analyze medical records with the doctor, and pursue other forms of evidence such as surveillance footage or documentation that prove negligence or a breach of conduct.
Because of their experience with this type of litigation, a wrongful death lawyer will know how to ask the right person for the right type of information, thus increasing accuracy and efficiency in the investigation and their ability to develop a sound legal strategy. What’s more, they can obtain the necessary information while maintaining sensitivity and respect to the deceased and the family.
Many Louisiana wrongful death lawyers work on behalf of their clients on a contingency basis, meaning that they don’t collect any compensation for their services unless their clients receive a settlement. Because of that, families can rest at ease that they won’t be taken advantage of or accrue unnecessary legal fees. They can also be assured that their lawyer is doing everything possible to represent their interests and reach a fair settlement.
Legal representation throughout any wrongful death lawsuit is crucial for the emotional health of the grieving family and the success of their claim. Lunsford, Baskin, & Priebe, PLLC are experienced lawyers with expertise in the area of wrongful death litigation. We work tirelessly for our clients to collect evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, represent their interests in the courtroom, and guide them through each step of the process. If you have lost a loved one in a wrongful death incident, contact Lunsford, Baskin, & Priebe for a free consultation.