When a person dies as a result of another party's accidental or intentional action, the deceased person's family or 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 Idaho, including:
Idaho law defines a "wrongful death" as the death of a person caused by the "wrongful or neglectful act of another." (Idaho Code § 5-311 (2021).) That is, 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. 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.
Another difference between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit: 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.
Idaho law states that the following people can file a wrongful death claim:
In addition, the following people are eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Idaho if they were dependent on the deceased person for "support or services":
Under Idaho law, the term "support or services" includes both the decedent's financial contributions and any household tasks the deceased person regularly performed.
Learn more about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In every state, a wrongful death claim must be filed within a certain period of time, set by a law called a "statute of limitations." The statute of limitations that applies to wrongful death cases in Idaho states that the case must be filed within two years of the date of the death. If the case is not filed within the two-year time period, the court will likely refuse to hear it at all. (Idaho Code § 5-219(4) (2021).)
In a successful wrongful death lawsuit, courts award "damages"—the plaintiff's claimed losses—to the deceased person's survivors. In Idaho, damages in wrongful death cases typically fall into one of two categories: economic damages and noneconomic damages.
Economic damages are based on concrete dollar amounts, such as those found on receipts, hospital bills, and other financial documents. Some common types of economic damages that may be recoverable in an Idaho wrongful death case include:
Under Idaho law, economic damages are not "capped," or limited, in wrongful death cases.
Noneconomic damages are meant to compensate for losses beyond the financial harm caused by the death. In Idaho, noneconomic damages in wrongful death cases are commonly awarded to the family to compensate for the loss of the deceased person's society, companionship, comfort and advice. State law limits the amount of noneconomic damages a court can award, and the amount is adjusted every year on July 1. In 2021, the damage cap was raised to $399,430.74 per claimant. (Idaho Code § 6-1603 (2021).)
Idaho does not allow damages to be awarded in wrongful death cases for pain and suffering, whether suffered by the deceased just before death or by the family members as a result of the death. Get more information on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death claims can be complicated, and the law can change at any time. If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Idaho, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law might apply in your specific situation.