In this article, we'll look at some key parts of New Hampshire law as it applies to civil wrongful death cases. Like other states, New Hampshire has its own set of rules regarding wrongful death and the damages available if a lawsuit for wrongful death is successful in court. In this article, we'll look at how New Hampshire defines "wrongful death," who may file such a claim, and the time limits for bringing this kind of case to court.
In New Hampshire, a wrongful death claim may be filed when the negligent, reckless, or intentional act of one person or party causes someone's death. In this way, a wrongful death claim can be understood as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer available to bring his or her own lawsuit to court.
Instead, another person must file the claim on behalf of the deceased person's estate and surviving family members. This person may also file certain civil claims that the deceased person had available during his or her lifetime, if the statute of limitations has not expired on those claims (we'll discuss those deadlines in the last section of this article).
New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 556:19 allows "any person interested in the estate of a deceased" to file a wrongful death claim in court. In other words, unlike many states, which restrict the right to file a wrongful death claim to individuals like the personal administrator of the estate or surviving family members, 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.
Because a wrongful death claim is a civil suit, it must be filed in a New Hampshire civil court by an interested party directly. In this way, a wrongful death claim differs from a criminal charge for murder or manslaughter, which is filed by the prosecuting attorney. A wrongful death claim may be filed even if criminal charges are being pursued in the same case.
New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 556.12 governs the types of damages available in a wrongful death claim in New Hampshire -- as well as who is entitled to those damages. While the amount of damages will differ in each case depending on the particular facts, the types of damages that may be available in a New Hampshire wrongful death claim include:
These elements may be considered if the administrator of the deceased person's estate has filed the wrongful death claim in court. The court may also consider how long the deceased would likely have lived, were it not for the events that caused the death.
Damages that may be available for the surviving spouse of the deceased person include damages for the loss of the comfort, care, companionship, and guidance of the deceased. However, these damages are "capped," or limited, to $150,000. If the deceased or the surviving spouse are 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 damages for the loss of familial relationship. These damages may also be capped or reduced just as damages paid to the surviving spouse may be capped or reduced.
According to New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 556:11, a wrongful death claim must be brought within six years of the date of the deceased person's death. If the claim is not filed within this time period, the deadline or "statute of limitations" prohibits the case from being heard in court.
The six-year time limit applies to new wrongful death claims. Some claims the deceased person could have filed if he or she had not passed away may still be filed by the deceased person's estate, but they are subject to shorter time limits -- in most cases, only one or two years. It is best to consult an experienced New Hampshire wrongful death lawyer to determine when the deadlines expire on any potential claims.