Like other states, Michigan has a specific set of laws governing wrongful death claims. In this article, we'll look at some key aspects of these laws, including:
Under Michigan law, a wrongful death is defined as a death caused by any "wrongful act, neglect, or fault of another" that would have allowed the person to file a personal injury lawsuit had he or she lived. In addition, Michigan law considers it to be a wrongful death when a "wrongful or negligent act" causes a pregnant woman to suffer a miscarriage. (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 600.2922, 600.2922a (2021).)
In other words, a wrongful death claim can arise when one person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity, including by:
As in other types of personal injury lawsuits, in a successful wrongful death case the defendant's liability 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.
Another big difference between a criminal prosecution for homicide and a wrongful death civil lawsuit: In criminal court, the state or federal government must establish the accused person's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt"—a very high bar for the prosecution to clear. In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant's liability 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 one event 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.
While some states' laws permit the deceased person's surviving family to file a wrongful death lawsuit, Michigan's wrongful death statute requires the personal representative (sometimes called the "executor") of the deceased person's estate to file the claim. Within 30 days of filing the lawsuit, the personal representative must send written notice to family members who are entitled to damages (more on damages, below).
Read more about who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In a successful wrongful death case, "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—are awarded to the deceased person's family to compensate them for the death. In Michigan, damages in a wrongful death case can be awarded to survivors for a long list of losses, including:
Although Michigan law allows the deceased's family to recover damages in a wrongful death claim, it limits the family members who may receive damages to the following:
If none of the immediate family members listed above (the spouse, children, parents, siblings, or grandparents) survive, then damages may be awarded to anyone who could inherit from the deceased person's estate.
Note that there's no universal cap on damages in a Michigan wrongful death lawsuit, but the state's limit on medical malpractice damages would apply to a wrongful death claim stemming from a health care provider's error.
Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
Like all states, Michigan has a law that limits the amount of time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This law, called a "statute of limitations," states that you have three years from the date of the person's death to bring the claim. (Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.5805 (2021).) If the case is not filed before this period of time expires, it will most likely be barred from court.
If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Michigan, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. Wrongful death claims can be complicated, and an experienced lawyer can explain how the law might apply to your specific case.