Oregon's wrongful death laws permit a deceased person's estate to file a lawsuit if the person died as a result of another party's accidental or intentional act.
In this article, we'll discuss:
Under Oregon law, a "wrongful death" is defined as a death "caused by the wrongful act or omission of another," when the act or omission would have allowed the person to file a personal injury lawsuit had he or she survived. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.020 (2021).) In other words, a wrongful death is one that results from the legal fault of a person or entity, including by:
In some states, a deceased person's family members can file a wrongful death claim. In Oregon, however, only the personal representative (sometimes called the "executor") of the deceased person's estate can file the lawsuit. If the deceased has prepared a will, they typically will have named a personal representative there. If there is no will, or if the appointed personal representative cannot serve, the court can appoint someone.
"Damages" are the plaintiff's claimed losses in a personal injury case. In a successful wrongful death lawsuit, the court will award damages to the deceased person's estate or surviving family members to compensate for a range of losses. In Oregon, damages can be awarded for:
Punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the defendant acted with extreme negligence or intentionally caused the death. Unlike other types of damages, which are intended to compensate the estate and survivors, punitive damages are meant to punish particularly bad behavior and send a message that extremely negligent or intentional wrongdoing will not be tolerated by society.
Note that under Oregon law "noneconomic damages" are capped (or limited) at $500,000 in wrongful death cases.
Noneconomic damages are those that are more subjective and difficult to quantify with a dollar amount, such as pain, mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, injury to reputation, and loss of care, comfort, companionship and society. This cap does not apply to economic damages, which include compensation for past and future medical bills, lost income, and reduced earning capacity. (Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 31.705 and 31.710 (2021).)
Learn more about the damages that might be available in a wrongful death case, and read the full text of Oregon's wrongful death statute at Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.020.
Like all lawsuits, wrongful death claims must be filed within a specific period of time, set by a law known as a "statute of limitations." In Oregon, the statute of limitations that applies to most wrongful death lawsuits sets a filing deadline of three years from the date of the deceased person's final injury. If the claim is not filed before the time period expires, it will almost certainly be barred from court entirely. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.020 (2021).)
Because the date of death is not controlling for purposes of Oregon's law, if a significant amount of time passes between the date of final injury and death, the time to file a wrongful death claim could be shorter than expected. And there are a few circumstances in which a different statute of limitations might apply.
If you have questions about how the time limit applies to your case, or if you are running up against the filing deadline, it could be time to speak to an experienced Oregon personal injury attorney.
As we've discussed, an Oregon wrongful death lawsuit is meant to compensate a wide variety of losses, both those suffered by the deceased person before death, and those resulting from their death. In many states, a "survival" action can be brought by the personal representative or estate, seeking compensation on behalf of the deceased person, for certain kinds of harm resulting from the defendant's wrongdoing between the time of injury and the time of death.
But in Oregon, the subject of a "survival" lawsuit (governed by Or. Rev. Stat. § 30.075) is usually something other than the cause of the deceased person's death. If, for example, the deceased person could have brought a lawsuit for financial harm resulting from a breach of contract, but they died before they could file the lawsuit, the estate can file a survival lawsuit in the deceased person's place, and seek the contract-related financial damages that the deceased person could have sought.
In Oregon, a wrongful death lawsuit is usually the sole means for holding a wrongdoer legally responsible for damages resulting from someone's death. That makes sense in light of the fact that the damages available (as outlined above) in a wrongful death claim include compensation for different kinds of harm suffered by the deceased person.
Wrongful death claims can be complicated from both a legal and procedural standpoint, so it's often crucial to have an experienced lawyer on your side.
From establishing the defendant's liability for your loved one's death, to proving the spectrum of losses that came as a result, an Oregon injury lawyer will have the experience to put your best wrongful death case together, and the expertise to ensure a fair result. Learn more about finding, hiring, and working with a personal injury lawyer. You can also use the features on this page to connect with an Oregon injury lawyer near you.