Many catastrophic accidents end in the death of one or more persons. Fatal car accidents, workplace, slip and fall, and medical malpractice accidents can cut lives short. If one of your loved ones recently passed away in a personal injury accident, the Billings wrongful death lawyers at Heenan & Cook, PLLC, are compassionate and sympathetic; we will fight on your behalf for fair compensation.
We know this is not an easy time for your family, but you should know you’re doing the right thing by investigating your options. If you’d like to speak to an experienced wrongful death personal injury lawyer for a free evaluation of your case, contact our office today by calling (406) 839-9091 or submitting a contact form.
Below we’ve provided you with information about what you need to know when seeking to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
Montana state code section 27-1-513 defines wrongful death as injuries to and the death of one person caused by the “wrongful act or neglect of another.” A wrongful death claim is like a personal injury claim in many ways. The goal of both types of claims is to compensate one party for the harmful negligence of the other party.
A wrongful death claim can lead to the same types of compensation the injured victim could have recovered had he or she survived, plus additional awards for the pain, suffering, and losses of the surviving family members. Only certain people can file wrongful death claims in Montana:
- The personal representative of the deceased person’s estate.
- The deceased person’s parents or legal guardians if the deceased person is a child under the age of 18.
The court will appoint a representative of the estate if one does not already exist within your family. Your attorney can help you with this aspect of wrongful death claims. If a representative of the estate secures compensation on a deceased person’s behalf, it is the representative’s responsibility to distribute the award among surviving families as appropriate.
Who Can File for Wrongful Death in Billings?
Our Billings personal injury lawyers have been helping Montana residents through the complex legal system for over 40 years. When negligence or a wrongful act committed by another results in a death of a person, a wrongful death suit may be in order. One of the most common examples of death by negligence in Billings, MT is by a fatal car accident.
In 2016, 190 people lost their lives on Montana roads. If a car accident claims the life of a loved one, or if a loved one dies through the negligence or intentional misconduct of another, you may be able to seek compensation for this loss.
Understanding the Personal Representative Requirement in Montana
Wrongful death laws in Montana state that the estate’s personal representative may bring a claim for wrongful death. If the deceased left a will, the person designated as executor is the estate’s personal representative for bringing any wrongful death claim. Unlike many states, Montana does not place any restrictions on personal representatives from out of state.
If there was no will, the court will hold a formal hearing involving everyone with an interest in the estate. This would include a spouse, heirs, creditors, and potential personal representatives to determine who would best serve as the personal representative for the estate. The court appoints the person best suited to serve in this capacity.
The personal representative is to uphold the best interests of the estate. Pursuing a wrongful death claim helps provide compensation for the cost of medical bills, funeral, and burial expenses as well as the loss of wages the deceased would have earned in a lifetime. In addition, the suit may provide for damages for pain and suffering the deceased endured before dying.
Billings Law for Wrongful Death of Minors
If the person killed was under the age of 18, the court usually considers his or her parents to be the estate’s personal representatives. One or the other parent may bring a wrongful death claim, or they may act jointly to bring the claim together. In the case where the child does not have parents, the child’s legal guardian would act as the personal representative.
In the tragic case where the same event kills parents and their child, the court may make the personal representative of the parents’ estate the representative for the child as well. In such cases, the child’s wrongful death may become part of the parent’s claim as well.
Wrongful Death as a Civil Claim
In some cases, the wrongful death of your loved one may have been a result of a criminal act. If someone murdered your loved one or a drunk driver killed your loved one, the state may press criminal charges against the person who took the life.
However, a wrongful death claim is separate from criminal charges, as it is a civil lawsuit. The state will not pursue a wrongful death claim on your behalf when pressing criminal charges. In fact, even if the state does not pursue criminal charges or fails to get a conviction, it does not affect your ability to pursue a wrongful death claim. Only the estate’s personal representative can bring a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased.
Types of Wrongful Death Cases We Handle
Any kind of death can be devastating for a family, but, when it’s due to another’s negligence, the tragedy is even worse. A wrongful death claim can arise from countless possible causes. When one party’s negligence directly leads to the death of another person, usually the victim has grounds for a wrongful death claim. Some of the most common causes of personal injury claims also lead to wrongful death claims when victims die from the injuries or illnesses they sustain.
A few of the most common types of wrongful death cases we handle at Heenan & Cook, P.C., include:
- Car accidents. Car accidents are one of the leading causes of accidental injuries and deaths throughout the United States. If a driver causes an accident resulting in injuries to other drivers, victims can pursue personal injury claims to recover their losses. However, if a car accident victim dies due to the negligence of another driver, the deceased’s family would have the option of filing a wrongful death claim. Depending on the defendant’s behavior, it’s possible he or she will face criminal charges from the state as well.
- Medical malpractice. Medical negligence is another leading cause of accidental injury and death in the country. Doctors and other medical professionals have a duty to prevent harm to their patients and only use appropriate medical techniques and treatments for a patient’s condition. When medical negligence results in the death of a patient, the patient’s surviving family members or an estate representative can file a wrongful death claim.
- Workplace accidents. Many industries like construction, offshore drilling, and truck driving carry a higher risk of on-the-job injuries than most other jobs, but a wrongful death claim may result from any workplace incident that results in the death of an employee. A deceased workers’ family may be able to pursue a workers’ compensation claim or collect employer-provided benefits on behalf of the deceased, but they may also file a wrongful death claim if negligence caused the fatal accident.
- Product liability. If a dangerous or defective product causes a fatal injury, we can help the deceased’s family determine their best legal options for recovery. A product liability case requires a plaintiff prove the product in question is defective by design, production, or marketing, and that the defective product is the sole cause of the plaintiff’s claimed damages. In a product liability claim for a wrongful death, the plaintiffs do not need to prove the defendant company was negligent, only that the product in question was defective and the defect caused the death in question.
- Slip and fall accidents. A slip and fall may sound like a minor incident at first, but a slip and fall might result in a traumatic brain injury or other fatal injury. If a property owner was negligent in the care and maintenance of a property where a fatal slip and fall injury occurred, the deceased’s family or representative could file a wrongful death claim against the property owner.
- Nursing home abuse. Elderly individuals in nursing homes and assisted living facilities typically have significant medical complications that demand constant attention, supervision, and medical care. Older individuals are more likely to succumb to illness or injury than younger people, but if a nursing home resident dies due to insufficient medical care, abuse, or a lack of basic needs being met, the deceased’s family may pursue a wrongful death claim against the nursing home or a nursing home employee.
Ultimately, a wrongful death claim can help the surviving family members of a deceased individual recover the economic losses resulting from the death, but the justice system also allows grieving family members to receive compensation for their pain and suffering from the loss as well.
6 Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Claims in Montana
The death of a loved one can bring up serious questions about responsibility, liability, and damage recovery. While no amount of money can bring back your loved one, a compensation award can make a considerable difference in your financial stability in the future. Heenan & Cook, PLLC has handled numerous wrongful death claims throughout Montana. We can provide the assistance, answers, and legal counsel your family needs. Here are six frequently asked questions we receive at our firm:
How much can I receive for funeral and burial costs?
Montana law permits a family to recover “reasonable” funeral and burial damages. There is no specific amount for these damages. It can change on a case-by-case basis. To give you an idea of the value of these damages, traditional funeral/burial services currently cost around $10,000.
How do the courts calculate pain and suffering?
It is the jury that decides pain and suffering awards, based on factors such as how traumatic the death was and how it impacted witnesses/loved ones. The most common calculation method for these damages is to multiply the amount of economic damages by a number from one to five. There is currently no cap on pain and suffering damages in Montana, unless the case involved medical malpractice.
Can I recover loss of future earnings?
Yes. The Montana courts allow surviving loved ones to recover for lost earning capacity. You may be eligible to take home an estimated amount for compensation your loved one would have earned were it not for the untimely death. The courts will adjust the rate for inflation.
What is loss of consortium?
“Loss of consortium” describes the loss of a decedent’s love, companionship, affection, and sexual relations. It can also describe the loss of a parent’s love, guidance, and support. The courts only award loss of consortium damages to surviving spouses and children.
My loved one died on the job. Should we file for workers’ compensation?
Don’t file a workers’ comp claim for the death of a loved one until you’ve spoken with an attorney. Filing for workers’ compensation means you give up the right to sue the employer. If the employer’s act of negligence contributed to your loved one’s death, you may be better off filing a wrongful death claim.
Why choose Heenan & Cook, PLLC?
Finding a wrongful death lawyer in Montana doesn’t have to be a puzzle. We make it easy. Our firm is here for you and your loved ones during this most difficult time. We will help you any way we can, answering your questions and offering our support every step of the way.
Damages in a Wrongful Death Claim
The types of damages a party may recover in a wrongful death claim differ slightly from those in a typical personal injury claim. Potential compensation includes recovery for:
- Economic damages. These are losses that have a concrete dollar amount tied to them, such as medical bills, lost wages and benefits, and funeral and burial expenses. Economic damages may include the wages and benefits the deceased person would have likely earned in his or her lifetime if it weren’t for the premature death.
- Non-economic damages. These losses are more difficult to quantify. They are intangible losses that are nonetheless valuable to surviving family members. These damages include loss of the deceased person’s companionship, parental guidance, love, and care. It can include spousal consortium and caregiver responsibilities to children or elderly parents.
Do not hesitate to file your wrongful death claim. In Montana, the statute of limitations (or deadline for filing) is three years after the death of your loved one. If your loved one’s death stemmed from a criminal homicide, you have ten years to file. The sooner you file, the sooner your family can receive the compensation and justice it needs to heal after the loss of a loved one.
Speak to Caring, Capable Wrongful Death Lawyers Today
After the traumatic death of a loved one, you have the right to ask questions. You are entitled to determine the cause of the accident and the possible parties responsible. There may be a distracted driver, negligent manufacturer, or careless employer whose actions contributed to your loved one’s fatal accident. In a case as serious as wrongful death, you need a team of lawyers you can count on for aggressive litigation. Heenan & Cook, PLLC, have what it takes to go up against major insurance companies, corporations, manufacturers, and other parties that may be liable for the death of your loved one. Trust us to do everything we can to resolve your claim quickly and successfully. Our team will take care of the paperwork and negotiations process so your family can focus on what is most important – being together during this difficult time. For a free case evaluation, please contact us today.
“I had an accident in August of 2013 that left me with a severe ankle injury that required several surgeries and months of physical therapy. This injury also had me out of work for several months. I was unsure of how to even tackle the insurance companies, bills, and paper work that were happening as I was trying to recover. It was suggested I get legal representation. I called the Law offices of James Heenan and told them of my situation. They took immediate action to help me. From that point and forward Mr. Heenan and his associates took care of everything. I would get frequent updates and phone calls on my case. This was such a huge relief for me, having Mr. Heenan and his staff on my side, taking care of everything. My decision to retain an attorney insured me time to concentrate more recovery and getting back to my everyday life.” – S.D.