Each U.S. state has its own set of laws governing wrongful death claims. In this article, we'll take a look at Louisiana's definition of a wrongful death claim and who may bring this kind of lawsuit in one of the state's district courts. We'll also look at the damages available in a Louisiana wrongful death case and discuss the time limits that affect these claims.
What is a "Wrongful Death" in Louisiana?
A wrongful death claim seeks compensation when "a person dies due to the fault of another," according to Louisiana Civil Code Section 2512.2. The death may be caused by the fault of another human being, or it may be the result of wrongdoing by an entity like a corporation. A wrongful death may may be caused by an accident or a purposeful action -- in other words, everything from negligent, to reckless, to intentional conduct.
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 bring his or her own case to court. Instead, the surviving family members of the deceased person must bring the claim to court to seek damages.
Who May File a Louisiana Wrongful Death Case?
Louisiana law creates specific categories of individuals who may bring a wrongful death claim to court when an injury proves fatal. The following parties may file a Louisiana wrongful death claim:
- the surviving spouse or children of the deceased person
- if there are no surviving spouse or children, the surviving parent or parents
- if there are no surviving parents, the surviving siblings of the deceased person, or
- if there are no surviving siblings, the surviving grandparents of the deceased person.
In each category, family members who are related to the deceased person by adoption may file a wrongful death claim just as family members related by blood or marriage may. If there are no surviving family members who may bring a wrongful death claim, the deceased person's estate may bring the claim to court.
If a parent abandoned the deceased person during his or her childhood, that parent is treated as if he or she died before the deceased person passed away, and the parent is not allowed to file a wrongful death claim.
In some instances of wrongful death, a criminal case may be based on the same facts that support the wrongful death claim. For example, if a car accident claims a person's life, the state may file homicide charges against the driver who caused the crash, if the driver was drunk or driving recklessly at the time of the accident.
While a criminal case does not prevent the filing of a wrongful death claim, surviving family members should understand the two key differences between these two types of claim. A criminal case is filed by the prosecutor's office, while a wrongful death claim is filed by the family members directly. In the criminal case, guilt is punished with penalties like jail or prison time, probation, or fines, while in the wrongful death case, liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages. Speak to a Louisiana attorney to learn more about how these two types of cases may influence one another.
Damages in a Louisiana Wrongful Death Case
Damages in a wrongful death claim may be available to cover both "economic" and "noneconomic" losses. "Economic" losses include measurable, specific losses, including:
- funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills, including bills for emergency care related to the deceased person's final illness or injury
- lost wages and benefits
- value of lost household services, and
- bills for damaged property.
"Noneconomic" losses are losses suffered as the result of a wrongful death, but that can't be established with evidence like a bill or receipt. Noneconomic losses that may be raised in a wrongful death claim include:
- the pain and suffering the deceased person suffered in his or her final moments, and
- the loss of care, companionship, guidance, and emotional support suffered by family members as a result of the untimely death.
Learn more about Damages in a Personal Injury Case.
If the deceased person has one or more surviving family members, the family members must bring the wrongful death claim to court to seek both economic and non-economic damages. If there are no surviving family members capable of bringing the claim to court, the personal representative or executor of the deceased person's estate may bring a claim to seek damages for the losses suffered by the estate, which are usually economic in nature.
Time Limits for Filing a Louisiana Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Louisiana's statute of limitations for wrongful death gives the surviving family members or personal representative one year to file a wrongful death claim in court, usually starting from the date of the deceased person's death. If your lawsuit is not filed within this one-year time period, and you try to file it later on, the defendant is sure to file a motion to dismiss the claim as time-barred, and the court will almost certainly grant the motion.