Each U.S. state, including Wyoming, recognizes the availability of "wrongful death" claims. A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit brought to seek compensation after the negligence or recklessness of another person or company causes fatal injuries. In this article, we'll look at Wyoming's specific rules governing wrongful death actions.
What is "Wrongful Death" in Wyoming?
Wyoming's wrongful death law covers situations in which a death results from the "wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another person.
One way to think of a wrongful death claim is as a personal injury lawsuit that can no longer be brought to court, because the person who died cannot serve as the plaintiff. Although the deceased person cannot bring a personal injury claim, certain other people may bring that case to court as a wrongful death case to seek compensation on the deceased person's behalf. Family members may also use a wrongful death case to get compensation for their own losses stemming from the death.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit in Wyoming. Chapter 38 of the Wyoming Code allows a wrongful death claim to be filed even if the case is also being tried in a criminal court. However, a wrongful death case and a criminal case differ in two important ways. First, a wrongful death case is brought directly by the survivors of the deceased person, while a criminal case is filed by the state. Second, liability in a wrongful death case is expressed solely in terms of money damages, while liability in a criminal case may include jail or prison time, probation, and other penalties for the person who caused the death.
Who May File a Wyoming Wrongful Death Claim?
In Wyoming, a wrongful death claim must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person's estate. If the spouse, child, or parent of the deceased person is still alive, the estate's debts, if any, cannot be paid from any damages won in the wrongful death case.
The personal representative has two years to file a wrongful death claim in a Wyoming court, which is measured from the date of death. If the case is not filed within two years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear it, which may mean the family is left with little recourse.
Who May Seek Damages in a Wyoming Wrongful Death Case?
Although only the personal representative may file a wrongful death case in Wyoming, the deceased person's spouse, child or children, parents, or any other dependent may participate in the case in order to seek damages for his or her specific losses.
Some losses that family members might seek compensation for in a wrongful death case include damages for the loss of the deceased person's care, companionship, and the loss of future companionship, society, and comfort. Family members may also wish to seek damages for their own pain and suffering associated with the deceased person's last days and eventual loss.
The personal representative may also seek damages on behalf of the deceased person's estate. Damages that are typically sought on behalf of the estate include:
- compensation for the deceased person's final medical bills
- funeral and burial expenses
- lost wages and income that the person would likely have earned if he or she had lived
- pain and suffering the deceased person experienced at the end of his or her life, and
- costs related to damages property.
Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.
Wyoming Wrongful Death and Comparative Fault
Wyoming uses a modified comparative fault rule to resolve wrongful death cases in which the deceased person was partly or completely at fault for his or her own fatal injuries. According to the Wyoming Code of Civil Procedure, the deceased person's estate cannot recover damages in a wrongful death case if the deceased person was more than 50 percent at fault. If the deceased person was 50 percent at fault or less, the total damages in the case are reduced by a percentage equal to the fault assigned to the deceased person.
Here is an example of Wyoming's comparative fault rule as it might apply in a wrongful death case. Suppose that while crossing a street, a pedestrian is hit by a car and suffers fatal injuries. The driver had run a red light, but the pedestrian had stepped into the crosswalk without pausing to check whether the intersection was clear. At trial, the judge or jury decides that the deceased pedestrian was 25 percent at fault and the driver was 75 percent at fault. The total damages in the case are calculated at $100,000.
Under Wyoming's comparative fault rule, the pedestrian's estate will be able to recover a total of $75,000 in damages. This number equals the $100,000 total minus $25,000, or the 25 percent of fault assigned to the pedestrian. If the pedestrian had been found to be 51 percent or more at fault, however, the damages award would have dropped to $0 automatically. The estate would have been barred from collecting any damages at all.