Deaths caused by accidents are the fourth leading cause of fatalities in the US — with more than 200,000 every year. The impact of these unexpected disasters can be earth-shattering to the loved ones of the deceased, especially where there are dependents.
As committed Carmel wrongful death lawyers serving Hamilton County, our personal injury law firm is dedicated to helping surviving family members of those whose lives were cut short because of a third party’s negligence.
Each case is different in terms of circumstances and defendants. We stand by our Carmel, Indiana, clients in their fight for justice.
“Wrongful Death” Definition
Wrongful death is defined by Indiana statutes as a fatality caused by someone else’s wrongful act or the omission of an act that should have been done. This could be an intentional act (such as a criminal act) or a negligent act or an omission (such as an accident or even an incidence of medical malpractice). If this event caused someone to be injured, it would be a personal injury claim. If it caused death, the injured person would not be physically able to bring a claim, so someone else would pursue it as a wrongful death claim.
As with personal injury law, a wrongful death lawsuit determines the defendant’s liability for the fatality by a preponderance of the evidence — i.e., that they were more likely responsible than not. A court would then determine how much financial compensation is payable to the deceased’s estate or survivors.
How is this different from a criminal case?
On the other hand, if the defendant is charged with homicide under criminal law, a conviction could result in imprisonment, probation, and/or other penalties such as fines, which would be paid to the state, not the deceased’s estate or survivors.
The burden of proof is much higher in a criminal case in Hamilton County. The prosecution must establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. It is possible, however, for a defendant to be sued for wrongful death in civil court and face criminal charges for the same matter.
How Can a Carmel Wrongful Death Lawyer Help Me?
When a loved one is senselessly taken away because of an intentional or negligent act, their surviving loved ones don’t always know what to do — or what their options are. This is why they should consult with an accidental death lawyer, who can actually help in a number of ways.
Explaining Legal Rights
Wrongful death laws are different in many states in terms of who one can bring a lawsuit (estate representative vs. immediate family members or even distant relatives) and statute of limitations. That’s why it is important to see a fatal accident lawyer in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred.
A wrongful death attorney will also be able to assess what kind of damages (compensation) can or should be sought according to the facts of the case. Economic damages are things like medical costs the deceased received prior to their death, funeral/burial expenses, and loss of income.
Non-economic damages are harder to quantify and may include the pain and suffering experienced by the deceased prior to death, loss of consortium (for spouses) or love/companionship/affection survivors received from the deceased, and emotional anguish. Where the defendant acted egregiously, punitive damages — an amount awarded to deter the abhorrent behavior — may be rewarded. The accidental death lawyer will be able to advise what damages to pursue in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Investigation and Evidence Gathering
In some cases, the survivors don’t even know if they “have” a case. A wrongful death attorney will know what to look for in reports by the Carmel police department and witness statements, or medical reports. If more information is needed — surveillance video, further witness accounts, or a second medical opinion, for example — the Carmel personal injury lawyer can conduct that investigation. The information and evidence could also be used to support the claim if it is ultimately brought.
Most lawsuits actually end up settling because the cost, time, and effort it takes to litigate is quite high — but so are the stakes of the negotiations between the parties. Sometimes negotiations can get heated, or the parties may head into mediation or arbitration. The defendant will have lawyers protecting their interests and their finance. Those bringing a wrongful death action on behalf of the family or the deceased should as well.
Civil court is full of rules and deadlines that can be overwhelming for people who aren’t represented. A wrongful death lawyer will know how to navigate the system and make sure the appropriate documents are filed when they need to be. The law of negligence can be quite technical and require an understanding of multiple disciplines; the law of medical malpractice even more so.
Carmel accidental death attorneys will be familiar with these areas and will know what kinds of experts may be needed to support the claim. They will also know the evidentiary rules, which are often not well understood by lay people, and the most effective ways to conduct direct and cross-examinations to bring out the testimony needed from witnesses.
Examples of Wrongful or Accident Death Cases
While many fatal accidents involve vehicles, collisions are not the only type. The following list is not an exhaustive list of potential wrongful/accidental death cases, but it covers the most common. Most of them relate to the law of negligence, which covers preventable injury or death as the result of someone doing something — or not doing something — a reasonable person in similar circumstances ought to have done.
The statistics are sobering. More than 1.3 million deaths around the world are caused by traffic accidents every year. That’s about 3,000 deaths per day. In Indiana, the top causes of fatal car accidents include impaired driving (1 in 3) and speeding (1 in 3). Other factors can include driver skill, vehicle malfunction, weather, and road environment. Serious car accidents that are most likely to be fatal include head-on collisions, rollover accidents, and wrong way accidents.
Highway collisions are also dangerous, given the higher speed limits. Around Carmel, there are the I-465, I-69, US 421, US 31, and State Road 37 to watch for.
As of 2021, there are 8.6 million registered motorcyclists in the US annually — and motorcycle accidents have tended to account for roughly 14% to 16% of fatal vehicle collisions. It also appears that a significant number of motorcyclists involved in fatal collisions were not licensed and motorcyclists had a higher rate of alcohol impairment than other drivers.
Semi-trucks are tall, heavy, and unstable — able to cause a lot of damage, injury, and death in collisions with cars and other vehicles. Being rear-ended or T-boned by a semi-truck is more likely to be fatal than by a smaller vehicle. Rollovers are the most common truck crash and can be caused by taking a curve with too much speed or overcorrecting a trailer drift.
Tires go through a lot of wear and tear and are more likely to blow out if trucking companies don’t replace them as often as they should. Improper braking, poor road conditions and equipment failure can cause jackknifing and underride collisions. Improperly loaded trucks can cause drivers to lose control — and the loads themselves are hazards if they fall onto the road.
In the US, more than 5,000 boat accidents — the most common type being collisions with other vessels — occur every year. In the majority of fatal boat crashes, lack of safety education and/or intoxication constituted major contributing factors. Other causes include operator inexperience/inattention, excessive speed, weather, and machinery failure.
Patients rely on their physicians and medical personnel to correctly diagnose and treat physical ailments, diseases, and injury. When a medical provider makes a preventable error that harms the patient, this is medical malpractice. The error could be a misdiagnosis, a missed diagnosis, medication/prescription error, and of course, surgical errors.
In some cases, it may not be the error of the doctors or nurses but of hospital or practice administration. Medical malpractice is a subset of negligence and carries some special considerations when it comes to lawsuits.
Property owners have a legal responsibility to keep visitors safe from preventable hazards or dangers on their property. If they fail to maintain their buildings, clear an icy walkway, remove an overhanging dead tree branch, or properly secure a guard dog, for example, and someone got injured or killed as a result, they can be sued under the head of premises liability.
If someone is a victim of a crime because the property owner does not have adequate security systems or personnel in place, they could be liable as well. Similarly, if someone drowns in a backyard pool because it isn’t secured the way it should have been, the property owner could face a lawsuit.
Manufacturers and in some cases retailers also have a legal responsibility to ensure that the products they distribute and sell are safe for the public. If a product malfunctions or is defective and leads to someone’s injury or death, this may trigger a product liability claim if there was something the manufacturer or retailer should have reasonably known about the possible danger and could have prevented it.
Workplace Accidents and Illnesses
When workplace accidents or workplace-related illnesses occur, many are aware of the workers’ compensation system. If a worker is killed because of a preventable workplace accident or illness, a wrongful death claim may be possible, depending on the circumstances.
Who Can File Wrongful Death Claims?
Indiana is one of the states in which a wrongful death claim can only be brought by the personal representative of the deceased victim’s estate. This person in most cases is the designated executor as set out in the deceased’s last will and testament.
If the victim died intestate (without a will), someone who wants to act as the estate’s personal representative needs prior approval from the court. Appointed executors also need confirmation from the court before they can administer the estate.
Indiana Statutes Related To Wrongful Death
There are two statutes governing wrongful death claims in Indiana: the General Wrongful Death Act (“GWDA,” Indiana Code 34-23-11) and the Adult Wrongful Death Act (“AWDA,” Indiana Code 34-23-12).
The GWDA states that in the case of a wrongful death, the personal representative of the deceased victim may bring an action against the liable party or parties if the deceased victim would have been able to do so had they not died. The lawsuit can seek to recover reasonable expenses for medical/hospital care and funeral/burial services, as well as lost earnings. Recovered expenses go to the estate.
Additionally, Indiana courts have held that damages may include recovery for loss of the deceased victim’s love and affection for their surviving spouse and dependent children or next of kin. These damages go to the surviving dependents but are distributed the same way as the property under the will or probate rules. Under the GWDA, where there are dependents, attorney fees are not recoverable.
The GWDA does not allow non-dependent children or parents to recover damages for loss of love and affection in wrongful death claims. The AWDA was enacted in 1999 to allow non-dependent family members to do so if they can show that they had a “genuine, substantial, and ongoing relationship” with the victim. The collective damages for lost love and companionship are capped at $300,000.
Unlike the GWDA, these damages are distributed according to each survivor’s particular relationship and loss. Lost earnings are still unrecoverable for non-dependents under the AWDA, but attorney fees and expenses are recoverable by the estate.
Although only the personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit, the representative is not necessarily the one who stands to recover compensation. State law only permits the following individuals to collect the money awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit:
- The surviving spouse of the deceased
- Any surviving children of the deceased
- Any surviving parents of the deceased
- Any other surviving dependents of the deceased
Serving Carmel, Indiana
Carmel offers some of everything for everyone. Fashion-forward folks have upscale and trendy places to shop. Aficionados of music, theatre, dance, and other performing arts can take in shows at our different performance venues. There are galleries and the Indiana Design Center for fans of fine art.
Golfers have a number of clubs and courses where they can tee off. The beautiful Monon Trail is a haven for hikers, cyclists, rollerbladers, and nature lovers alike. We are proud to live and thrive here. That is why we are dedicated to helping the loved ones of anyone who— as the result of wrongful death — are robbed of these treasures
Carmel Wrongful Death Law Firm
At our Carmel wrongful death law firm, we are committed to helping people get justice and compensation for the wrongful or accidental death of a loved one. No one should have to go through that trauma alone. If you are looking for a lawyer for a death in the family call us today and let us explain the best next steps for you.
In addition to Carmel our injury law firm serves Fishers, Noblesville, Greenwood, Indianapolis, and the greater Hamilton County area.