Each U.S. state has its own rules that apply to wrongful death cases. This article explores some key aspects of Nebraska's wrongful death laws. We'll look at how the state defines wrongful death and who may bring such a claim to court. We'll also look at the damages available in wrongful death lawsuits. We'll finish with a look at the time limits for filing a Nebraska wrongful death action.
How is "Wrongful Death" Defined in Nebraska?
Nebraska Revised Statutes section 30-809 defines "wrongful death" as a death "caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another party, when the act, neglect, or default is of a kind that would have allowed the deceased person to bring a personal injury claim to court if he or she had lived.
Based on this definition, one way to think of a wrongful death claim is as a personal injury lawsuit in which the injured person is no longer available to bring his or her own case to court. Instead, another party must bring the claim to court to protect the interests of 1) the deceased person's estate and 2) surviving family members who suffered a loss as the result of the death.
Who May File a Nebraska Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Although a wrongful death claim in Nebraska is brought for the benefit of the deceased person's surviving family members, it must be filed by the legal representative of the deceased person's estate.
A wrongful death claim may be filed against the estate of a person whose wrongful act, neglect, or default caused death, if that individual has also passed away. For example, if a car accident claims the life of both a careless driver and a pedestrian, the pedestrian's legal representative may file a wrongful death suit against the estate of the driver, just as the representative could have filed a suit against the driver if he or she were still alive.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit. This means that it must be filed by the personal representative or surviving family member directly and that liability in the case is expressed solely in terms of money damages (which we'll cover in the next section). By contrast, a criminal charge for homicide is filed by the prosecuting attorney, and culpability is penalized with incarceration, probation, fines, or other penalties. Although a wrongful death claim in Nebraska may be filed while a criminal case is also being pursued, it is wise to speak to a Nebraska wrongful death lawyer who can help you determine exactly how the criminal case may affect the wrongful death lawsuit, and vice versa.
What Damages are Available in a Nebraska Wrongful Death Claim?
If liability for a wrongful death is established in a Nebraska court, civil damages may be awarded to the estate, the surviving family members, or both. Damages that may be recovered in a Nebraska wrongful death case include:
- compensation for reasonable funeral and burial expenses
- medical bills related to the deceased person's final illness or injury
- lost compensation, including the value of wages and benefits the deceased would likely have earned had he or she survived
- pain and suffering endured by the deceased in his or her final moments
- loss of care, companionship, comfort, and guidance of the deceased person, and
- lost value of household services the deceased person performed, like chores, childcare, and repairs.
Although Nebraska allows recovery for the pain and suffering endured by the deceased, it does not allow family members to seek damages for the pain and suffering they endure as a result of losing a family member. (More:What is Pain and Suffering in a Personal Injury Case?) Instead, damages awarded in these cases must be based on "pecuniary," or monetary, losses.
When considering the appropriate amount of damages to award in a wrongful death case, the judge or jury is asked to consider several factors, including the circumstances of the deceased person's home life, the age and well-being of family members, and similar evidence.
Time Limits for Filing a Nebraska Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Under Nebraska Revised Statutes section 30-810, a wrongful death claim must be filed within two years of the deceased person's death. This "statute of limitations" bars claims that are filed after the two-year deadline has expired. But a number of factors may affect how the statute of limitations runs in a particular case, so it's a good idea to talk to an attorney if you're approaching the end of the two-year period.
Learn more about Proving Wrongful Death in a Civil Case.