Wrongful death lawsuits in Idaho are governed by Idaho Code Section 5-311, which sets out specific definitions and procedural requirements for these kinds of civil cases. In this article, we'll look at a few key aspects of Idaho's wrongful death laws, including the time limits for filing a wrongful death claim and the damages that may be available if a wrongful death claim succeeds in court.
Defining "Wrongful Death" in Idaho
Idaho law defines a "wrongful death" as the death of one person caused by the "wrongful or neglectful act of another." When such a death occurs, the heirs or personal representative of the deceased person may bring a claim to court seeking damages from the person or party that allegedly committed the wrongful or neglectful act that caused the decedent's death.
One way to think of a wrongful death claim is as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer able to bring a claim to court. Instead, the family members of the deceased person -- or the personal representative of the deceased person's estate -- must bring the claim to court. Family members and heirs are also able to make claims on their own behalf for damages they suffered as a result of the untimely loss of their loved one.
Who May File a Wrongful Death Claim in Idaho?
Idaho law allows the following parties to file a wrongful death claim:
- the personal representative of the deceased person's estate
- the "heirs" of the deceased person's estate, as defined by Section 15-1-201 of the Idaho Probate Code, and
- the deceased person's spouse, children, stepchildren, parents, or any blood relatives that are partly or wholly dependent on the deceased person.
A wrongful death claim is a civil case. It must be filed in an Idaho court by one of the above parties directly, and liability in the case is expressed solely in terms of monetary damages. In this way, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case, which is brought by the state and in which guilt is punished with jail or prison time, probation, or other penalties. A wrongful death claim may be brought to court in Idaho even if the state is already pursuing a criminal case based on the same facts.
Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim in Idaho
In every state, a wrongful death claim must be filed within a certain amount of time. The Idaho statute of limitations governing wrongful death cases requires that a wrongful death case be filed within two years of the date of the decedent's death, in most situations. If the case is not filed within the two-year time limit, the court will likely refuse to hear it at all.
Because certain factors can change or delay the running of the two-year time period, it is important to consult an Idaho attorney promptly if you want to file a wrongful death claim and are running up against the statute of limitations.
Damages in Idaho Wrongful Death Claims
Damages in Idaho wrongful death claims typically fall into one of two categories: economic damages and non-economic damages.
"Economic" damages are damages that are based on concrete dollar amounts, such as those found on receipts, hospital bills, and other financial documents. Economic damages are not "capped," or limited, in Idaho wrongful death cases. Some common types of economic damages that may be recoverable in an Idaho wrongful death case include:
- medical expenses for the deceased person's final illness or injury
- funeral and burial expenses
- loss of financial support by family members who relied on the deceased person for this support, and
- loss of the reasonable value of household services the deceased person provided.
"Non-economic" damages are damages that are not specifically quantifiable, but are meant to compensate the surviving family members for some loss. In Idaho, non-economic damages in wrongful death cases are available only to compensate the family for the loss of the "care, comfort, and society" of the deceased person. These damages are also capped at $250,000 per family member in all wrongful death cases filed after July 1, 2003.
The damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death case differ in some ways from standard damages that can be recovered in a personal injury case. In a wrongful death case, the focus is on the surviving family members' loss of the relationship and financial support of the deceased person. Idaho does not allow damages in wrongful death cases for pain and suffering, whether suffered by the deceased just before death or by the family members as a result of the death.