It is devastating to lose a family member due to someone else’s misconduct, as such a tragedy impacts countless aspects of your life. You experience unbearable grief and sadness, but may not realize the financial burdens created by your loved one’s absence.
Fortunately, New Jersey law does allow certain individuals to seek compensation for these losses. Even if monetary damages cannot bring back the deceased, an award can ease the financial stress during these difficult times.
At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our New Jersey wrongful death lawyers are committed to providing the legal support you need to recover compensation for your losses. Please contact our office to set up a free case evaluation regarding your situation, and read on for some important information about wrongful death cases in New Jersey.
Overview of New Jersey Wrongful Death Claims
Every state has its own wrongful death laws, and New Jersey is no different. Under New Jersey’s wrongful death statute, the decedent’s personal representative can file a claim on behalf of certain relatives when a loved one dies due to the careless, reckless, or intentional acts of another person. If the deceased could’ve brought their own personal injury case to court, then the estate can bring a wrongful death action.
The intent is to compensate the survivors for the financial support they would have received had the deadly incident never occurred. Individuals who can benefit from a wrongful death action include spouses, children, and parents, and further distant relatives who were financially dependent on the deceased.
Causes of Wrongful Death Actions in New Jersey
There’s a wide range of accidents and intentional conduct that may give rise to a wrongful death suit. At O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble, our team represents clients who lost a loved one as a result of:
- Car, bus, truck, Jitney, and other motor vehicle collisions;
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents;
- Taxi and rideshare service crashes;
- Motorcycle accidents;
- Train and subway collisions;
- Slip and fall accidents and other incidents that occur due to dangerous conditions on property;
- Medical malpractice, medical errors, and misdiagnosis;
- Dangerous drugs;
- Products with design or manufacturing defects;
- Nursing home abuse and neglect;
- Workplace injuries; and,
- Many more.
These are not the only events and accidents that can lead to a wrongful death claim. If you believe your family member could’ve brought their own personal injury claim had they lived, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our New Jersey wrongful death attorneys will listen to the circumstances and determine whether you have legal grounds to proceed with a claim.
Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in NJ
Regardless of the specific type of fatal accident, these incidents usually happen because another person was careless or reckless. In the practice of law, this concept is called negligence.
Wrongful death claims are similar to personal injury actions in that you have to prove certain facts to recover compensation. Our New Jersey wrongful death lawyers will assist with establishing the four essential elements of negligence in a wrongful death case, which are:
- You have to prove that the responsible party had a legal duty to exercise reasonable care;
- The responsible person or entity breached this duty through an act or failure to act;
- The breach of duty directly caused the accident in which your loved one perished; and,
- You suffered losses due to the passing of your family member.
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Examples of negligence may include:
- A motorist causes an accident by speeding, texting, or drunk driving;
- A property owner fails to have proper lightning or security, which leads to someone being attacked.
- A manufacturing defect causes harm to consumers using the product as intended;
- A doctor fails to catch a medical condition in a pregnant mother, leading to complications during birth;
- A property owner failing to clean up a spill, which leads to a slip and fall incident; or,
- A property owner fails to clean up a spill, which leads to a slip and fall incident; or,
- A truck driver causes a collision by improperly securing cargo.
In many negligence cases, family members will seek compensation by filing a wrongful death claim with the responsible party’s insurance company. If we cannot negotiate a fair amount to compensate you for the loss of your loved one, our attorneys will take the matter to court to protect your interests.
There is a lot to consider when it’s time to file a wrongful death lawsuit in New Jersey. You must coordinate everything like preserving evidence that proves liability, demonstrating your family’s damages, determining the proper jurisdiction and venue, learning how to allocate potential proceeds, and verifying you are within the statute of limitations. That is why we advise that you contact our office to let us help you. Wrongful death lawsuits are also expensive. You need a law firm with the experience and financial resources to build a strong case for trial.
Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims in New Jersey
In New Jersey, you have two years after the victim’s death to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Failure to file within the two-year period means your claim could be barred. If the court prohibits your late filing, you and your family could lose out on the compensation you deserve.
When filing a lawsuit for wrongful death, New Jersey law says that the only person entitled to file the lawsuit is the personal representative of the estate or the executor of the deceased’s will. This person will be the representative on behalf of the survivors like a spouse, children, parents, etc.
Although the personal representative is the one filing the wrongful death lawsuit, the beneficiaries of the deceased will be the ones who receive any compensation. Do not worry that because the personal representative is the one filing that you won’t receive any money.
Understandably, it’s a very tragic time for your family. However, it’s important to get started on a wrongful death claim as soon as possible. Retaining a New Jersey wrongful death attorney right away can help ease some of the stress while maximizing your potential for compensation.
Compensation for Wrongful Death Claimants in New Jersey
The basis of compensation in a wrongful death claim focuses on the losses the survivors suffer, as opposed to the person that died. If successful in proving the essential elements of a cause of action, eligible family members can recover:
- The costs for medical treatment of the decedent’s last illness;
- Burial and funeral costs;
- Loss of income that the decedent would have contributed to the household;
- The value of the care, guidance, emotional support, advice, and companionship the deceased would have provided;
- Loss of consortium for a surviving spouse; and,
- Other damages depending on the details of your claim.
If the deceased did not generate any income, any services they provided at home still have recoverable value. Compensation available under a wrongful death claim in New Jersey is limited to financial damages. Recovery does not include compensation for the survivors’ emotional distress of loving their loved one. If a family member witnessed the victim’s death, they might have a separate claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED).
Although family members cannot recover for their non-economic losses, it may be possible to recover compensation for the decedent’s losses through a survival action.
Survival Actions in New Jersey
In a survival action, the person’s estate may be entitled to seek damages for the decedent’s:
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of enjoyment;
- Scarring and disfigurement; and
- Emotional distress.
Proceeds in a survival action are distributed per the terms of the deceased’s will. If the victim died without a will, the distribution would follow New Jersey law for intestate succession. The potential beneficiaries will vary based on who in the victim’s family is still alive.
Under New Jersey’s intestate laws, if there is a spouse, but no parents or children, everything goes to the spouse. If there is a spouse and children, and both the spouse and decedent were parents to all the children, the spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus half of the balance. If any of the decedent’s children have a parent who is different from the spouse, then the spouse receives only half of the estate with the remainder split equally between the children.
If there are a surviving spouse and parents, but no children, the spouse will receive the first $50,000 plus half of the balance of the estate. What is left is then divided equally between the parents. If there is no surviving spouse or children, only parents, then the parents will share equally.
In the event the decedent does not have a surviving spouse, children, or parents, then the compensation would go to any brothers or sisters or their descendants.
The will won’t affect the wrongful death portion of the claim and how a settlement is distributed. Proceeds distributed under the wrongful death portion are not considered part of the estate and therefore are not subject to taxes. However, survival action distributions may have tax implications for the estate. Wrongful death settlements and awards are not subject to collection by creditors either, but survival action distributions are.
Punitive Damages in a New Jersey Wrongful Death Action
In select New Jersey wrongful death claims, you may be able to recover punitive damages in addition to other compensation. This compensation is not available in all cases—only ones where the defendant’s actions were outrageous or egregious. If the defendant’s actions were intentional or they acted with reckless disregard for the deceased’s life, then these damages might be included in the award.
One of the most common situations that might warrant a punitive damages award is if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time. Two other examples are acting with malice or displaying a specific intent to cause harm.
New Jersey law caps the amount of punitive damages that a court may award. It’s limited to five times the amount of the compensatory damages, or $350,000, whichever amount is higher. Exceptions may exist only for specific cases involving social concerns and public policy.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims
Survivors cannot receive damages for emotional distress related to a wrongful death action. However, New Jersey law allows for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claims related to some wrongful death accidents. If you were present when your close family member was killed, you might have legal standing to bring a claim.
A negligent infliction of emotional distress claim requires you to prove that:
- You witnessed your family member’s death;
- The defendant caused the victim’s death;
- You are married or closely related to the victim; and
- You suffered severe emotional distress by witnessing their death.
NIED actions are only applicable if you were a close familial relative. So even if you were the best friend of 20 years, you will not be able to recover, no matter how close you were.
Symptoms related to your emotional distress need to be severe. They may seem relatively minor at first, like a temporary loss of appetite or trouble sleeping, but they become severe over time.
Proving a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim is not as simple as it sounds. Having an experienced New Jersey wrongful death lawyer represent you is important for a successful emotional distress claim.
Results may vary depending on your particular facts and legal circumstances.
We successfully argued that the failure to order additional diagnostic testing was in fact a deviation from accepted standards of care and the delay in diagnosis resulted in the patient’s cancer spreading, which increased the risk of death.
This tragic personal injury case occurred with the failure to warn our client of an oncoming slow moving freight train, which resulted in his being hit by the train and dying several hours later.
Discuss Your Claim with Our New Jersey Wrongful Death Lawyers Today
For more information on wrongful death claims and your rights as a family member, please contact O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble to discuss your circumstances. You can reach any of our five offices in New Jersey by calling 1-800-586-5817 or by contacting us online . We can schedule a free consultation to review your claim and determine a strategy for pursuing your legal remedies.