In New Hampshire, 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 look at several key parts of the laws that apply to wrongful death claims in New Hampshire, including:
In New Hampshire, as in most states, a wrongful death claim may be filed when the accidental, reckless, or intentional act of one person or entity causes someone's death. Many different events can be the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit, including:
It can be helpful to think of a wrongful death claim as a type of personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer able to bring his or her own lawsuit to court. Instead, another person must file the claim on behalf of the deceased's estate and surviving family members.
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.
Read more about proving liability in a wrongful death case.
Many states require the executor of the deceased person's estate or certain surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. New Hampshire law is slightly different. It allows "any person interested in the estate of a deceased person" to bring a wrongful death claim to court. In other words, New Hampshire allows anyone with a legal interest in the deceased person's estate to protect that interest in court by filing a wrongful death claim. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 556:19 (2021).)
Learn more about who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
In a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the court will award "damages"—the plaintiff's claimed losses—to the deceased person's survivors or estate. While the amount of damages will differ depending on the facts of each case, damages that could be available in a New Hampshire wrongful death claim include compensation for:
In addition, damages may be available to the surviving spouse for the loss of the deceased's comfort, society, and companionship. However, these damages are "capped," or limited, to $150,000. If the deceased or the surviving spouse is found to be partly at fault for the death, the amount of damages paid to the surviving spouse are reduced by the percentage of fault the deceased or surviving spouse is found to bear.
Damages available to surviving children under age 18 include compensation for the loss of "familial relationship," meaning the loss of the deceased's comfort, society, affection, guidance, and companionship. These damages may also be capped or reduced just as damages paid to the surviving spouse may be capped or reduced.
Learn more about the types of damages that might be available in a wrongful death case, and read the full text of Indiana's wrongful death damages statute at N.H. Rev. Stat. § 556:12.
In all states, wrongful death claims must be filed within a certain amount of time set by a law called a "statute of limitations." In New Hampshire, the statute of limitations that applies to wrongful death cases states that the lawsuit must be filed within three years of the date of the person's death. If the claim is not filed within this time period, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear the matter at all.
If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law applies to your specific situation.