Every state has its own laws governing wrongful death claims filed in the state's civil court system. In this article, we'll take a look at the rules that affect wrongful death lawsuits in Kansas. We'll start with Kansas's definition of "wrongful death" who may file a wrongful death case in Kansas. Then, we'll look at the damages available in a Kansas wrongful death claim and the time limits for bringing this kind of case to court.
The Definition of "Wrongful Death" in Kansas
Let's start with the basics. Kansas Statutes section 60-1901 defines a "wrongful death" as a situation in which "the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another." The statute allows a wrongful death claim to be filed in a state court if the deceased person "might have maintained the action had he or she lived."
The claim may be filed against either the party that allegedly committed the wrongful act, or against the personal representative of that party's estate if he or she is deceased. For instance, if a death is caused by a car accident, the wrongful death claim may be filed against the driver who caused the accident. If the driver who caused the crash also lost his or her life, however, the claim may be filed against that driver's estate.
Who May File a Kansas Wrongful Death Claim?
Kansas law allows "any one of the heirs at law of the deceased" to file a wrongful death claim in court. In most wrongful death cases, this means that one of the following individuals will likely file the wrongful death lawsuit:
- the surviving spouse
- any surviving child or children
- the surviving parents or grandparents, or
- the surviving siblings of the deceased person.
Because the surviving family members are typically the parties to whom damages are paid -- to compensate them for the economic and emotional effects of their loss -- it is most common for these individuals to file the wrongful death claim in court.
Damages in a Kansas Wrongful Death Claim
Damages in a Kansas wrongful death claim may be paid to cover a number of losses related to the deceased person's death, including:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills related to the deceased person's final illness or injury
- lost wages, including the value of wages the deceased person would likely have earned if he or she had lived
- the value of household services the deceased person ordinarily performed, and
- costs to repair or replace any property damaged in the incident.
These damages, known as "pecuniary" damages, are not "capped," or limited, by Kansas law. However, Kansas does cap non-economic damages in wrongful death cases at $250,000. Damages that are capped include damages for losses like:
- mental anguish, suffering, or bereavement
- loss of society, care, comfort, or protection
- loss of marital care, advice, attention, or counsel
- loss of filial care or affection, and
- loss of parental care, training, guidance, or education.
Learn more about different types of damages in a personal injury case.
Any damages awarded in a wrongful death case in Kansas are distributed to the heirs at law by the court, which may hold a separate hearing in order to make this distribution. First, the estate may be compensated for the reasonable costs of bringing the wrongful death claim to court; then the remaining damages are distributed to the remaining heirs.
In Kansas, a jury verdict in a wrongful death case will typically "itemize," or separate, the amounts awarded for pecuniary damages and the amounts awarded for non-economic damages. Although itemization does not affect how the damages are paid to the estate or the surviving family members, it does make it easier for the court to apply the damages caps for non-economic damages.
Time Limits for Filing a Kansas Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Kansas also has a "statute of limitations" that limits the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in court. A wrongful death claim in Kansas must be filed within two years of the date of the deceased person's death. If you try to file your lawsuit after this two-year deadline has expired, the defendant is sure to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit as an untimely one, and the court will almost certainly grant the motion.