In this article, we'll examine some key Minnesota laws that could affect a wrongful death lawsuit brought in the state. We'll start with how Minnesota's statutes define "wrongful death," and we'll also look at who may file a wrongful death lawsuit in the state and what damages are available if this kind of claim succeeds. Finally, we'll talk about the time limits for filing a Minnesota wrongful death lawsuit in the state's civil court system.
How is "Wrongful Death" Defined in Minnesota?
Minnesota Statutes section 573.02 defines a "wrongful death" as a death that is "caused by the wrongful act or omission of any person or corporation." That "wrongful act" can involve negligence, or it can be an intentional action as well.
A wrongful death claim is similar to a standard personal injury claim, which may also involve an injury caused by a wrongful act or failure to act by another party. In a wrongful death case, however, the injury inflicted has claimed the life of the injured person, making him or her unable to bring the case to court personally. Instead, the surviving family members of the deceased person or a trustee must bring the case to court on the deceased person's behalf.
Who May File a Minnesota Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
The following parties may file a wrongful death case in Minnesota:
- the surviving spouse and children of the deceased person, and/or
- the parents, grandparents, and siblings of the deceased person.
These parties are allowed to bring a claim not only for losses the deceased person suffered, but also for losses they suffered themselves as a result of the deceased family member's untimely death.
If the surviving family members do not wish to file a Minnesota wrongful death claim themselves, they may ask the court to appoint a "trustee" to pursue the claim on their behalf. The family members may name their chosen trustee on the petition, which must be accompanied by a written consent to serve that is signed by the chosen trustee. The trustee is responsible not only for pursuing the wrongful death claim in court, but also for demonstrating to the court that the proceeds of any claim were distributed according to law.
Learn more about Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Damages in a Minnesota Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Liability in a Minnesota wrongful death lawsuit is expressed in terms of money damages. The categories of damages that are available in a Minnesota wrongful death claim include compensation for:
- reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- expenses for the care, treatment, and hospitalization required to treat the deceased person's final injury or illness
- loss of services, protection, care, and/or assistance suffered by the surviving family members as a result of the death
- loss of income, wages, and benefits suffered by the surviving family members as a result of the death
- sorrow, mental anguish, and loss of solace, and
- loss of society, companionship, care and guidance.
In order to establish damages, the family or trustee must prove to the court that the family or estate has suffered a "pecuniary" loss, or a loss of money or things of value.
Minnesota recognizes not only the loss of earnings, but also the loss of services provided around the home and the experience of mental anguish as part of the "pecuniary" loss.
Civil damages are the only remedy available in a successful wrongful death claim, which is a civil lawsuit brought by the family or trustee directly. By contrast, a criminal case involving the same death would be filed by the prosecuting attorney, and culpability may be penalized with jail or prison time, probation, and other requirements. A civil wrongful death claim may be filed even if a criminal case is proceeding based on the same death.
Time Limits for Filing a Minnesota Wrongful Death Claim
Like all states, Minnesota has a time limit for filing a wrongful death lawsuit in court. This kid of deadline comes from a law known as a statute of limitations. In Minnesota, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of the deceased person's death. If the claim is not filed within three years, the court will likely refuse to hear it at all, with a few rare exceptions.
Here's an example of one of those exceptions: In a situation in which a Minnesota criminal court has convicted someone of murder in connection with a wrongful death, a wrongful death lawsuit may be filed at any time after that conviction. The family members or the trustee are not limited by the three-year deadline in that scenario.