Ohio, like other U.S. states, has its own rules governing wrongful death claims. In this article, we'll take a look at Ohio's definition of "wrongful death" and who may bring a wrongful death case to the state's civil court system. Then, we'll look at the time limits that affect Ohio wrongful death claims and the types of damages that are available when these kinds of claims are successful.
What is a Wrongful Death Claim in Ohio?
Wrongful death claims in Ohio are governed by Ohio Revised Statutes section 2125, which defines a wrongful death as one that is caused by the "wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another. A wrongful death claim may be filed if the wrongful act, neglect, or default "would have entitled the party injured to maintain an action and recover damages if death had not ensued."
In this way, a wrongful death claim may be understood as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer available to file his or her own case in court. Instead, another party must file the claim on behalf of the deceased person's estate and any surviving family members, which brings us to the next question.
Who Can File an Ohio Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Ohio's wrongful death law specifies that the "personal representative" of the deceased person's estate must bring the wrongful death claim to court. Only a person may act as the personal representative; another entity, such as a corporation, may not.
The claim itself, however, may seek damages on behalf of both the estate and surviving family members.
Ohio law presumes that the following family members have suffered losses that can be compensated for in a wrongful death case:
- the surviving spouse of the deceased person
- any surviving children, including adopted children, and
- the surviving parents of the deceased person.
Other family members, such as siblings or grandparents, are not presumed to have suffered a loss. However, they may recover damages if they can demonstrate in court that they have suffered a compensable loss.
Time Limits for Filing an Ohio Wrongful Death Claim
Ohio law limits the time window for filing a wrongful death action to two years from the date of the deceased person's death. If you try to file your wrongful death lawsuit after those two years have passed, the defendant (the person or entity you're suing) will almost certainly ask the court to dismiss the case, and the court will comply with that request.
Because certain factors can affect how the statute of limitations applies to a particular case, it is important to speak to an attorney with experience in Ohio wrongful death cases, to understand exactly how the statute of limitations might apply in your case.
Damages in Ohio Wrongful Death Lawsuits
A wrongful death claim may seek damages for a number of different types of losses, including:
- loss of support, based on the compensation the deceased person would reasonably have earned if he or she had lived
- loss of the services of the deceased person, including things like housework, yard work, and child care
- loss of the care, companionship, advice, guidance, counsel, instruction, or society of the deceased person
- loss of the prospective inheritance the deceased person's spouse or children might have received if he or she had lived, and
- mental anguish suffered by the surviving family members as a result of the untimely death.
How these damages are distributed to the surviving family members is governed by Ohio's inheritance laws. If the surviving family members are all related to the deceased person in the same degree, they will split any damages equally among them. For instance, three children of a deceased person would split the damages award equally three ways. If surviving family members are related to the deceased person by different degrees, the court will determine how best to split the damages award among them.
A surviving spouse of a deceased person who has remarried between the date of death and the date the court case is decided can still receive damages from the wrongful death case. However, the court will take into consideration the fact that the surviving spouse has remarried.
The parent of a deceased child may not recover damages if the court determines that the parent abandoned the child. If the personal representative knows or has reason to believe that the parent has abandoned the child, he or she must notify the court.
Learn more about Damages in a Wrongful Death Case.