Wrongful death claims and personal injury claims have some similarities. Both are based on negligence – the fact that a person had a duty of care, which was breached. In both, someone suffers some form of injury. As a result of that injury, there were financial costs (i.e., medical bills, hospitalization, lost wages, in-home care, and other economic damages). Despite these similarities, wrongful death claims and personal injury claims have two very different purposes – and, therefore, different procedures.
The Harm That a Personal Injury Claim Addresses
Personal injury claims are concerned with an injured party that became injured because of another party’s negligence. Wrongful death claims, on the other hand, are based on the death of an individual that occurred because of another person’s negligence. Essentially, wrongful death claims only occur when someone’s behavior led to a death that could have been otherwise prevented.
The Goal of These Claims
Personal injury claims are designed to compensate the surviving victim for his or her injury and financial losses. The damages are paid to the victim by the defendant (the individual responsible for the injury).
Wrongful death claims cannot compensate the victim. Instead, they shift the compensation to the surviving family members, and the costs that they endured because of their loved one’s untimely death.
Who Can File a Claim?
In a personal injury claim, it is the victim who files the injury claim. In the instance of a minor, parents could file on their child’s behalf (this is also the case for individuals over the age of 18 who are mentally ill).
In contrast, a wrongful death claim must be filed by a representative of the deceased. This can include surviving spouses, children, a sibling, a surviving parent, or relative.
In a personal injury claim, the damages that can be awarded to the plaintiff (injured party) are different than those of a wrongful death claim. Damages that a personal injury claim may receive include:
- Medical costs (including future costs)
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages (in cases where malicious intent is present)
In a wrongful death claim, medical costs can be recovered for those costs that the deceased encountered up until his or her death (as long as they are related to the injury that caused the death). In addition, family members can request compensation for funeral and burial costs, loss of financial support, loss of companionship, etc.