Like other states, Michigan has specific state laws that govern wrongful death cases filed in the state's civil court system. In this article, we'll examine key parts of Michigan's wrongful death statute and how those laws might affect a real-world wrongful death case.
What is Wrongful Death?
In Michigan, a claim may be brought to court as a wrongful death case if it involves a death "caused by wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another." (Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.2922.)
Another way of thinking about this is to say that a wrongful death claim may be brought in most situations where the deceased person could have brought a personal injury case, except that his or her death prevented them from serving as plaintiff. If the injured person passes away, the claim may be brought as a wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. This means:
- it is filed by the estate or family of the deceased person directly, and
- liability is expressed solely in terms of money damages (which are paid by the defendant id they are found liable).
In these two ways, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case, which is filed by the state and in which penalties may include jail or prison time, probation, or fines. In Michigan, a wrongful death claim can be filed even if the death is already the subject of a criminal case.
Who May File a Michigan Wrongful Death Claim?
Michigan's wrongful death law requires the personal representative of the deceased person's estate to file the wrongful death claim. Within 30 days of filing the claim, the personal representative must send written notice to family members, letting them know about the claim.
Although Michigan law allows family members to recover damages in a wrongful death claim, it limits which family members may receive damages. In Michigan, the following family members of the deceased person can seek compensation via a wrongful death claim:
- spouse and children
- parents and grandparents
- brothers and sisters
- children of the deceased person's spouse, and
- anyone who is left property in the deceased person's will.
If none of these people are living or if the deceased person had no will, anyone who could inherit the deceased person's estate may receive damages in a wrongful death case. This may include aunts and uncles or first cousins.
Once family members or people named in the will learn that the estate has filed a wrongful death case, they have 60 days to notify the estate of any damages they have suffered as a result of the untimely death. If they don't send notice in time, their claims may not be included in the wrongful death case, depriving them of a valuable opportunity to seek compensation for their personal losses.
What Damages Are Available in a Michigan Wrongful Death Case?
If the estate establishes that the defendant is legally liable for the death of the deceased, the court may award money damages to the estate. Damages that may be available in a wrongful death case include:
- reasonable hospital, medical, funeral, and burial expenses
- lost wages and income, including the value of wages and income the deceased person would likely have earned in the future, if he or she had lived
- pain and suffering endured by the deceased person in his or her final moments
- costs related to damaged property
- pain and suffering endured by family members as a result of the death, and
- loss of care, companionship, and other intangible benefits family members enjoyed via their relationship with the deceased person.
If damages are awarded in a wrongful death case, Michigan wrongful death law requires hospital, medical, funeral, and burial expenses to be paid from the damages award. The remaining damages are then split among the family members and individuals named in the deceased person's will. (Learn more about damages in personal injury cases.)
How Long Does the Estate Have to File a Wrongful Death Case?
In Michigan, a wrongful death claim must be filed within three years of the date of death. If the case is not filed in this time, it may be barred from court under Michigan's "statute of limitations." Cases that fall outside the statute of limitations time "window" will almost certainly be thrown out of court, which deprives the surviving family members of a key opportunity to hold the defendant civilly liable for their loved one's death.