In Nebraska, 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 look at how Nebraska law defines wrongful death, who can file a wrongful death claim, the types of available damages, as well as the time limits on filing this type of lawsuit.
Nebraska law defines a "wrongful death" as the death of a person or fetus "caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another party, when the act, neglect, or default is of a kind that would have allowed the deceased person to bring a personal injury claim to court if he or she had lived. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-809 (2021).) In other words, one way to think of a wrongful death claim is as a type of personal injury lawsuit in which the injured person is no longer able to bring his or her own case to court. Instead, another party must step in and seek compensation on behalf of the deceased.
As with other types of personal injury claims, many different events or actions can be the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
In a successful wrongful death case—as in other types of personal injury lawsuits—the defendant's liability is expressed solely in terms of financial compensation (or "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 a single 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.
Some states allow the deceased person's surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Nebraska, though, the personal representative (sometimes called the "executor") of the deceased person's estate must file the wrongful death claim. (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 30-810 (2021).)
Get more information 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 survivors or estate to compensate for injuries suffered in connection with the death. In Nebraska, although the personal representative must file the lawsuit, any damages awarded will be paid to the deceased person's surviving spouse and next of kin.
Damages in a Nebraska wrongful death case can include compensation for the following categories of losses:
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 known as a "statute of limitations." In Nebraska, the filing deadline for most wrongful death lawsuits is two years from the date of the person's death.
Note that other filing deadlines apply if the death was caused by medical malpractice (two years from the date of the medical error, in most cases) or product liability (four years from the date of the death, in most cases). Lawsuits that are not filed before the applicable time limit expires will likely be barred from court entirely.
(Read the full text of Nebraska's wrongful death statutes of limitations at Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 25-222, 25-224, 30-810, and 44-2828.)
Wrongful death cases can be complicated—and the law can change at any time. If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit in Nebraska, it's a good idea to consult an experienced personal injury attorney, who can explain how the law might apply to your specific situation.