Losing someone you love and depend upon can be very frightening in terms of facing the future without someone you counted on every day. These very real and powerful emotions can turbo-charge the litigation process, and it is very important to be mindful of this energy during the complicated process of trying to place a value on the life of a human being.
In Wyoming, wrongful death cases are authorized by statute. The statute allows compensation for the next of kin where the death was caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another person or entity. People die every day, and just because someone dies, it does not mean that the survivors have a wrongful death case. Only those cases where the death was caused by some type of wrongful conduct does the case become actionable.
Wrongful death cases are different than other types of personal injury cases because the damages recoverable are different. In the usual personal injury case, the damages are designed to compensate the injured person, but in a wrongful death case, there is no way to compensate a deceased person. This is the part where it gets complicated. Are all lives worth the same? The moral answer to this question would probably be that all lives should be valued the same, but the reality is that this isn’t always the case. Under Wyoming law, for example, a 40-year-old breadwinner with small children would be expected to earn far more over his expected lifetime than a 90-year-old grandmother or a small child, so he would be far more valuable in economic terms.
ESTABLISHING WHO HAS A VALID CLAIM
These cases are also complicated because, under Wyoming law, the number of people that may have a valid claim for wrongful death include all of the people who would be entitled to inherit property from the deceased person. This would include spouses, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Unfortunately with wrongful death claims, estranged family members often show up to claim entitlement to the same amount of money damages as the victim’s spouse or children. Wyoming law deals with this problem by limiting the damages to the loss of probable future companionship, society and comfort. The jury hears evidence on the quality of the relationship between the victim and the various claimants, and must decide what amount of money is fair compensation for each individual claimant, given the evidence.
These claims must be brought by a personal representative who is appointed by the court. The personal representative is actually the one who files the suit for the benefit of all of the claimants. This entire process is supervised by the court, and any distribution to the claimants by the personal representative must be approved by the court.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
A final complication of these cases is the two-year statute of limitations which requires that a wrongful death action be commenced within two years after the death of the deceased person. There are exceptions to this rule, but if you think you may have a wrongful death case and have any questions about any of these issues, contact a lawyer immediately. These cases do not get better with age.