In Connecticut, when a person dies as a result of another party's accidental or intentional action, the deceased person's estate could be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In this article, we'll examine several key aspects of the laws that apply to wrongful death claims in Connecticut, including:
In Connecticut, as in most states, a wrongful death occurs when one person dies as a result of the legal fault of another person or entity, including by:
As in other types of personal injury lawsuits, the defendant's liability in a successful wrongful death case is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation ("damages") that the court orders the defendant to pay to the deceased person's survivors or estate. This is one major difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a criminal homicide case, where a conviction can result in jail or prison time, fines paid to the state, probation, and other penalties.
There are other differences between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit. For instance, in a criminal case, the accused's guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is a very high bar for the prosecution to clear. In a civil lawsuit, the defendant's liability must be shown only "by a preponderance of the evidence," meaning it's more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the death. It is possible, though, for a single act to result in criminal charges and a wrongful death claim: A defendant can be sued for wrongful death in civil court while facing criminal charges related to the same death.
Learn more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.
Unlike in other types of personal injury cases, the injured person in a wrongful death case (the deceased) is no longer able to seek compensation from the individual or entity that caused the injury; someone else must step in to bring the case to court on behalf of the person's survivors and estate.
In some states, the deceased person's family is permitted to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Connecticut, however, only an executor or administrator of the deceased person's estate may bring a wrongful death claim. (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-555 (2021).)
If the person died without 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.
In a successful Connecticut wrongful death lawsuit, the court orders the defendant to pay "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—to the deceased person's estate. The court will determine the amount of damages based on several categories of losses, including:
In some car accident cases, the court may award double or triple damages in a wrongful death case if:
In order to seek double or triple damages, the plaintiff must specifically include these claims when filing the wrongful death lawsuit. (See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-295 for the list of traffic violations to which this law applies.)
Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death claims must be filed within a specific period of time, set by a law called a "statute of limitations." In Connecticut, a wrongful death case must be filed within two years of the date of the person's death, except that no wrongful death claim can be brought more than five years from the date of the act that caused the person's death.
However, a wrongful death claim may be brought at any time if the person who caused the death was, as a result of the death, convicted of or found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect for any of the following crimes:
(Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-555 (2021).)
If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Connecticut, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. Wrongful death cases can be complicated, and a lawyer who is experienced in this area can explain how the law might apply to your specific situation.