Wrongful death claims are not subject to the exact same rules and regulations across the nation. Instead, each state has their own set of laws that dictate how wrongful death claims can be brought, how outcomes are determined and what damages may be rewarded in a successful claim. Here are a few important things to know about wrongful death claims in Utah:
HOW IS WRONGFUL DEATH DEFINED IN UTAH?
Sometimes, the lines can seem a bit blurry when trying to define what constitutes a wrongful death. The State of Utah in particular defines a wrongful death as being caused by the "wrongful act or neglect" of another person or entity.
What sets a wrongful death claim apart from a standard personal injury claim is that the injured person is not able to speak for themselves and bring their own claim to court. In a wrongful death case, someone else must bring the claim for them.
WHO IS ABLE TO FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH CLAIM?
As was already stated, someone else must bring the wrongful death claim to court for the deceased person, but not just anyone can do so. Utah law dictates that either the heirs of the deceased individual or the personal representative of their estate are eligible to file the wrongful death claim.
But who exactly is considered an "heir" in the eyes of the law? Heirs might include a surviving spouse, adult children, birth or adoptive parents, step children under the age of 18 and financially dependent on the deceased person, or any other blood relatives mentioned in Utah inheritance laws.
HOW MUCH TIME IS GIVEN FOR FILING A LAWSUIT?
As with all civil law cases, there is a set window of time in which a claim must be filed in order to be heard in court. Utah law states that the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years. This means that after two years have passed since the date of the person's death, a claim can longer be filed. If the claim is being filed against a government entity, the statute of limitations is shortened to one year.
WHAT IF A CRIMINAL CASE IS BEING FILED?
In some instances, a criminal case related to the death may also be in the works, but that does not prohibit someone from bringing a wrongful death claim as well. A wrongful death claim will be filed in civil court while the criminal case will be filed in a criminal court. It is important to note, however, that a criminal case may affect the wrongful death case and its statute of limitations. Cases may vary, so it might be a good decision to work with an attorney who can navigate the legal system more easily.
WHAT DAMAGES MAY BE RECOVERED?
In a wrongful death case, damages are meant to help heirs recover losses related to the individual's death. If a case is successful, the damages awarded may include funeral expenses, medical expenses incurred in relation to the person's death, wages already lost as well as future wages that are now lost. Damages can also include compensation for non-monetary losses including pain and suffering resulting from the death. Of course, the heirs are also entitled to damages for the loss of companionship, love, and affection of the deceased person.