Minnesota State Statute 573.02 defines a wrongful death as ” … caused by the wrongful act or omission of any person or corporation.” But what exactly does this mean, and how does it differ from other charges when someone dies from unnatural causes?
Broadly speaking, a wrongful death case is a civil lawsuit brought in response to a death caused either by the direct actions or the negligence of another party. These suits are filed by relatives of the deceased, usually whomever has responsibility for the deceased’s estate, and they are most commonly filed when a criminal action has first been brought and was not successful or in cases where the state or federal government does not have a basis for filing criminal charges.
A famous example of a wrongful death case that got national media attention is the suit filed against O.J. Simpson for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson. Though he was first cleared of criminal charges, that did not restrict the family from bringing a civil case against him for damages. And though they won that case, the result of it had no bearing on criminal charges; it simply established him as being liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay damages.
Wrongful death cases are not limited to the direct actions of one party against another. A more common example is a company being found liable for not providing adequate safety measures and precautions in a product they create or in a facility they maintain.
How Are Damages Determined?
In Minnesota, wrongful death cases may be filed by the immediate family of the deceased, including their grandparents and siblings. Families can collect damages for the cost of medical care for the individual, funeral and burial expenses, and for personal and psychological distress and loss.
Minnesota also allows families to demonstrate how the loss of the deceased’s income or benefits have negatively impacted them as well as loss of services and assistance they provided at home. For example, if the deceased was responsible for taking care of an elderly family member, the family could claim damages if it was necessary to pay for an alternative form of care. The important thing is that the family must establish a direct link to a pecuniary loss, whether that be in money or in items of value.
Is There A Time Limit To Filing A Wrongful Death Suit?
Yes. Minnesota establishes a basic limit of three years from the date of death to initiate the lawsuit. However, there are some exceptions that can allow the case to be filed at a later date, and also some exceptions that might prevent such a case from ever being filed.
One scenario is if a serious injury or chronic condition is induced that puts the victim at ongoing risk of death. In these cases, the time limit is extended to six years from the specific act that caused the death. Obviously, in cases of negligence such as an issue with the manufacturing of a vehicle, that complicates the issue of establishing the exact date at which the “specific act” took place. Even if a firm date can be clearly established, a lawsuit cannot be brought if the death occurs six years or more from that date. If the medical prognosis shows that the victim stands a reasonable chance of living for at least a few years after the injury or condition began, then it is better to file a civil case based on injury as soon as possible.
Deaths due to medical malpractice are also subject to special rules. There is an even tighter limit here of four years to initiate a wrongful death case from the time of the action that led to the death. However, establishing the action that was responsible is more complicated here than in other types of wrongful death cases.
If you believe you have grounds for a wrongful death case and have further questions or would like to learn more about legal representation, feel free to contact us at any time.