Ohio, like other U.S. states, has laws governing wrongful death claims. These laws allow a deceased person's survivors to file a lawsuit when the death was the legal fault of another person or entity. In this article, we'll take a look at Ohio's definition of "wrongful death," who is permitted file a wrongful death claim in the state's civil courts, the types of damages that are available if the case is successful, and the time limits for filing this type of lawsuit.
Ohio law defines a "wrongful death" as one that is caused by the "wrongful act, neglect, or default" of another that would have entitled the person to file a personal injury lawsuit if he or she had survived. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2125.01 (2021).) In other words, a wrongful death case can be thought of 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 file the claim on behalf of the deceased person.
As with personal injury lawsuits in general, a wrongful death lawsuit can arise from many different circumstances, including:
Also 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. In fact, Ohio's law specifies that a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed even if the death was the result of murder or manslaughter.
In some states, the deceased person's surviving family can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In Ohio, however, the personal representative (sometimes called the "executor") of the deceased person's estate must bring the wrongful death claim to court. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2125.02 (2021).) If the person had a will, he or she most likely named a personal representative there. If the person had no will, the court will appoint someone to serve.
Get more details about who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
If a wrongful death lawsuit succeeds, the court will order the defendant to pay "damages"—or the plaintiff's claimed losses—to the deceased person's survivors or estate. In Ohio, a wrongful death claim may seek damages for a number of different types of losses, including:
Compensation in a successful Ohio wrongful death lawsuit will typically be awarded to the surviving spouse children, and/or parents, as the law presumes that they have suffered losses. Other family members, such as siblings or grandparents, may recover damages if they can demonstrate in court that they have suffered a compensable loss. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2125.02 (2021).)
Get more details on damages that might be available in a wrongful death case.
Wrongful death lawsuits must be filed within a certain period of time, set by a law called a "statute of limitations." The statute of limitations for bringing most wrongful death lawsuits in Ohio is two years from the date of the death. (Ohio Rev. Code § 2125.02 (2021).) If the claim is not filed within this time period, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear the matter at all.
There are some exceptions to Ohio's statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits that could change the filing deadline. If you're thinking of filing a wrongful death lawsuit in Ohio, it's a good idea to consult a personal injury attorney. An experienced lawyer can explain how the law applies to your specific situation.