Wrongful Death Lawsuits in Kentucky

Learn about wrongful death claims in Kentucky -- what they are, who can sue, and what damages are recoverable.

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In this article, we'll look at some key portions of wrongful death law in Kentucky. We'll begin by looking at how Kentucky defines wrongful death and who may file a wrongful death case in a Kentucky court. We'll also cover the types of damages available in a wrongful death claim and the time limits for filing such a claim in court.

Defining Wrongful Death in Kentucky

Kentucky Statutes section 411.130 defines a "wrongful death" as "the death of a person (that) results from an injury inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another." The wrongful behavior that causes death may be unintentional, such as negligence or recklessness, or intentional, such as assault.

An injury that causes death may be inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another human being or by an entity like a corporation. For instance, a wrongful death claim caused by a car accident may be filed against the driver who caused the accident, while a wrongful death claim caused by a defective product may be filed against the company that made or sold the product.

One way to think of a wrongful death claim is as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer available to seek compensation from the party that caused the injury. Instead, the deceased person's family members must bring the claim to court.

Who May File a Kentucky Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Before a wrongful death claim can be filed, the probate court must name or appoint a personal representative for the deceased person's estate. The personal representative is then responsible for bringing the wrongful death claim to court.

A wrongful death claim is a civil case, in which liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. In these ways, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case. A criminal case is filed by the state or local prosecutor, and guilt is punished with jail or prison time, fines, probation, or other penalties. In some situations, a criminal case and a civil wrongful death case may be pursued based on the same set of facts. Even if a criminal case is filed, however, the personal representative must file a separate wrongful death case in order to obtain damages for the wrongful death.

Although the personal representative must file the wrongful death claim in Kentucky, damages in the wrongful death case are distributed not only to the estate, but also to certain family members who survive the deceased person.

Damages in a Kentucky Wrongful Death Case

Damages in a Kentucky wrongful death case seek to compensate the estate and the surviving family members for the untimely loss of the deceased person. In a successful Kentucky wrongful death case, damages are typically distributed as follows:

  • The estate receives funeral and burial expenses, as well as the reasonable costs of pursuing the wrongful death claim.
  • The surviving family members receive the remainder of the damages award, typically intended to compensate the family for the loss of the care, companionship, guidance, and support of the deceased.

Kentucky law specifies that surviving family members may receive damages in a wrongful death case in the following order:

  • if there is a surviving spouse and no surviving children, the surviving spouse receives the entire damages award
  • if there is a surviving spouse and surviving children, the spouse and children split the damages award equally
  • if there is no surviving spouse but there are surviving children, the children receive the entire award
  • if there are no surviving spouse or children, the deceased person's surviving parent or parents receive the entire award, and
  • if there are no surviving spouse, children, or parents, the damages award goes to the estate. After the estate's debts are paid, the remainder passes to the individuals named in the deceased person's will, if any, or to the heirs at law if there is no will.

Kentucky does allow punitive damages to be awarded in wrongful death cases caused by an intentional act or by gross negligence. Unlike other types of damages, punitive damages are not intended to compensate the estate or surviving family members for their losses. Instead, punitive damages are awarded to punish particularly bad conduct and to deter other individuals from acting in an intentionally harmful or grossly negligent manner.

Learn more about Personal Injury Damages.

Time Limits for Filing a Kentucky Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Kentucky's "statute of limitations" sets a time limit for filing wrongful death lawsuit in the state's courts. In Kentucky, a wrongful death claim must be filed within one year of the date on which the decedent died. It's crucial to keep in mind that if you try to file your wrongful death lawsuit after the one-year window has closed, the defendant will almost certainly ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court is almost sure to grant that request.

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