At some point in your life, you’ve likely known someone who was injured in an accident, either at work or in traffic. Accidents are a fact of life, and unfortunately, sometimes accidents result in the death of an individual. When this happens, Utah law provides for the compensation of dependents and family members. However, most people have no idea where to begin when their loved one dies as the result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another party.
Not a single person reading this sits around contemplating the wrongful death of a family member or a close personal friend. Tragedies are unthinkable outcomes, and wrongful death is not an everyday occurrence in our lives. We live our lives among our friends and loved ones, secure in their company and comforted by their continued presence in our day to day lives.
A wrongful death is the absolute worst case scenario for many of us, but if and when it happens to your spouse, your child, or someone you know, a crash course in the law is usually what ensues. At a time when you’re grieving the loss of someone close to you, the law is the last thing on your mind. That’s why you need to contact an attorney.
An attorney is your advocate during the most unimaginably heartbreaking time. They’re your guide, and when you’ve lost a loved one, you need to focus on healing and recovery. Very often, the person you lose can be a breadwinner, a provider, a mother, a father, an adult child taking care of elderly parents or a disabled spouse or child. The loss isn’t just emotional; it’s financial. Life insurance and the estates a deceased individual leaves behind are often not enough to ensure the future of their surviving relatives.
In the event that a child dies as a result of negligence or wrongdoing, parents and siblings are left with the knowledge that no amount of money can bring their child back to life. However, civil damages are intended to both compensate a loss that cannot be quantified, and deter the wrongful conduct that resulted in the loss of a child.
Second, Utah law limits wrongful death claims to the heirs of the deceased victim, or a personal representative of the deceased. Who are the heirs under Utah law?
1. A surviving spouse, such as a husband or a wife.
2. A surviving adult child.
3. A surviving parent or parents either natural or adoptive.
4. The surviving stepchildren, if they are under 18 at the time of death and dependents of the deceased person.
5. Any other blood relatives listed in Utah’s inheritance laws.
The presumption under Utah law is that one of the heirs will take on the role of personal representative for the deceased; however, if the deceased died with a will or an estate plan, they may have named a personal representative who can also file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative has to file in civil court. This is the person who will contact and hire an attorney to deal with those responsible for the wrongful death and their insurance company.
Third, you have to file within two years of the deceased’s death. If the negligent party is a government entity, you only have one year to file.
Finally, you can recover damages under Utah’s wrongful death law. These damages can include the following:
1) Compensatory damages for:
-Medical expenses related to the injury causing the death.
-Lost wages, such as future wages and benefits lost. This means that you should be able to recover the wages the person would have made if they were still alive to work.
-Pain and suffering resulting from the death.
-The loss of companionship, guidance, and care. Very often, the deceased will be a spouse or parent whose loss cannot be quantified in mere lost wages. Children rely on their parents for guidance and care, and spouses rely on their other half for companionship and care as well.
2) Punitive damages: these damages are intended to send a message, and that message is that the negligent or intentional behavior that resulted in a wrongful death should not be tolerated or repeated. Punitive damages are awarded to punish intentional or negligent behavior, and they are also awarded to discourage that behavior in the future.
We all hope that we never have to deal with the aftermath of wrongful death, but if and when we do face that horrific possibility, knowledge is the key. The Personal Injury Education Center of Utah is a resource to give you the knowledge you need when the unthinkable occurs.