What is Wrongful Death?
A wrongful death occurs when someone’s action (or the omission of an action) results in another person’s death. To be classified as wrongful death in Oklahoma, the act that resulted in the fatality must be something that the deceased person could have filed a personal injury lawsuit for if they had survived.
Examples of actions that could lead to a wrongful death claim include:
– Negligence (car accidents, fire, slip and fall injuries, etc.)
– Medical malpractice (misdiagnosis, surgical errors, prescription errors, etc.)
– Intentional acts (crimes such as murder)
Unlike a criminal conviction, which can result in fines or jail time, a wrongful death action is a civil claim. This means that instead of being found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the defendant in a wrongful death claim may be found “liable.” Instead of going to jail or paying a fine to the government, they would instead be required to pay the survivors or the estate.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim
For a wrongful death claim to exist, there must be evidence of the following elements:
1. A death that results from negligence (or one of the other actions listed above)
2. A financial “injury” suffered by the surviving family members
3. A personal representative to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In Oklahoma, the law requires that a personal representative files a wrongful death claim, not a surviving family member. This person acts on behalf of both the decedent and the family or heirs.
If the decedent had a will, then the person intended to act as the personal representative may have been mentioned in the will. If not, the court can appoint someone to fulfill this role. In either of these situations, it is common that the personal representative is an immediate family member such as a spouse or adult child.
In some situations, it is not possible for a personal representative to be appointed. When this occurs, the surviving spouse or next of kin could file the wrongful death claim.
Wrongful Death Damages
The surviving family members can recover damages to compensate for the expenses associated with the burial and funeral as well as financial losses and emotional hardship associated with losing a family member.
Oklahoma allows the following damages to be recovered in a wrongful death claim:
– Medical costs associated with treating the injury that resulted in the death
– Burial and funeral expenses
– Wages that the deceased would have earned during their lifetime
– Compensation for the grief associated with loss of companionship
– Compensation for anguish suffered by family members as a result of the fatal injury
– Expenses to cover the cost of supporting and educating the surviving children (if the deceased had surviving minor children)
Oklahoma also allows victims to recover punitive damages. These damages are meant to “punish” the defendant and deter others from acting in the same manner by demonstrating that the courts will not tolerate such behavior. Though not specifically designed to compensate the plaintiff directly, it is an added benefit that can increase a financial award in a wrongful death claim.
Contact a Wrongful Death Attorney for Help
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Bryan Garrett PLLC have helped numerous navigate wrongful death claims with compassion and discretion. We understand that this is a painful and difficult time. The statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim in Oklahoma is two years, so if you decide to move forward with this claim, time is of the essence.
We can help guide you on the appropriate action in a complimentary consultation. Contact us at (405) 369-4498 or send us a text at (405) 3688-1400.