Each state, including Louisiana, has its own set of laws governing wrongful death claims that permit a deceased person's survivors or estate to file a lawsuit if the death was caused by another party's accidental or intentional act. In this article, we'll take a look at
In Louisiana, a "wrongful death" occurs when "a person dies due to the fault of another."(La. Civ. Code § 2315.2 (2021).) The death could be caused by another human being, or it can be the result of wrongdoing by an entity (like a corporation), including through:
A wrongful death claim can be thought of as a type of personal injury lawsuit in which the injured person is no longer available to bring his or her own case to court. Instead, surviving family members must bring the claim to court and seek damages on behalf of the deceased (more on that later).
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 big difference between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit: In criminal court, the accused's guilt must be established "beyond a reasonable doubt"—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, even when facing criminal charges related to the same death.
Learn more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.
According to Louisiana law, the following people may file a wrongful death lawsuit:
In each category, family members who are related to the deceased person by adoption may file a wrongful death claim just as family members related by blood or marriage may. If a parent abandoned the deceased person during his or her childhood, that parent is treated as if he or she died before the deceased person, and the parent is not allowed to file a wrongful death claim.
"Damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—in a successful wrongful death case are intended to compensate the surviving family members for the person's death. Damages in a wrongful death claim typically fall into two categories: economic and noneconomic. Economic losses are usually measurable and specific and in Louisiana can include:
Noneconomic losses are those that survivors suffer as the result of a wrongful death but that can't be established with evidence like a bill or receipt. Noneconomic losses in a Louisiana wrongful death claim can include compensation for:
Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
(Note: There's no universal cap on damages in a Louisiana wrongful death lawsuit, but the state's statutory limit on medical malpractice damages would apply to a wrongful death claim stemming from a health care provider's mistake.)
Each state has a law called a "statute of limitations" that dictates how long survivors have to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The statute of limitations that applies to wrongful death claims in Louisiana gives surviving family members one year from the date of the death to file a wrongful death suit. If the lawsuit is not filed within this one-year period, the family will almost certainly lose the right to file it at all. (La. Civ. Code § 2315.2 (2021).)If you're thinking of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Louisiana, consider consulting 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.