This article takes a look at wrongful death lawsuits as they are governed by the laws of Connecticut. We'll start by discussing what a wrongful death case is and who may file such a claim in Connecticut's civil courts. We'll also look at what kinds of damages may be awarded in a wrongful death case and the time limits for filing this kind of lawsuit in Connecticut.
Connecticut Code section 52-555 states that a wrongful death claim is simply a claim "for injuries resulting in death." In this way, it is similar to a personal injury claim. A wrongful death claim is typically filed against a person or company whose negligent, reckless, or intentional behavior is believed to have caused the death of another. Because the injured person is no longer available to bring the claim for himself or herself, another party must step in to bring the case to court on behalf of the deceased person's survivors and estate.
In Connecticut, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate.
If the deceased person died without making an estate plan (such as a will) that named an executor or administrator, or if the named executor or administrator cannot serve, the court may appoint an executor or administrator. This person is responsible for "wrapping up" the business of the estate as well as pursuing any wrongful death claim.
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit, which means that it must be filed by the executor or administrator directly. Liability in a wrongful death claim is expressed solely in terms of money damages owed by the defendant. In these ways, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal case, which is brought by the state or federal prosecutor and in which culpability results in punishment like jail or prison time, probation, or other penalties. A wrongful death claim may be filed even if a criminal case is also filed based on the same facts.
Damages in a Connecticut wrongful death claim are paid to the estate of the deceased person, when the wrongful death lawsuit succeeds in court. The amount of damages to be paid is determined by the jury, or by the judge if there is no jury.
Damages may be paid for the following categories of losses:
Not all damages must be linked to the loss of earning capacity. In Floyd v. Fruit Industs. Inc., 114 Conn. 659 (1957), the Connecticut Supreme Court found that "some damages are recoverable for the death itself, even though instantaneous, without regard to earnings or earning capacity."
Under Section 14-295 of the Connecticut General Statutes, double or triple damages may be awarded in a wrongful death case if a driver's deliberate violation of traffic laws or "reckless disregard" for traffic laws was a "substantial factor" in the death. In order to seek double or triple damages when a car accident causes a death, the executor or administrator filing the wrongful death case must specifically "plead" (meaning allege in the complaint that is filed to open the case) that the driver acted deliberately or with reckless disregard and that the driver's actions caused or substantially contributed to the death.
Each state has a "statute of limitations" that sets a deadline for filing different kinds of civil actions in civil court. In Connecticut, the executor or administrator of a deceased person's estate must file a wrongful death lawsuit within two years of the date of the decedent's death.
In some situations, a wrongful death suit may be filed after the two-year deadline has passed, if the case meets certain exceptions. However, in Connecticut no wrongful death claim can be filed once five years have passed since the decedent's death. So, it is important to speak to an experienced Connecticut attorney if you think you've got a valid wrongful death claim but you are running up against the two-year filing deadline.