The Defendant Died During The Wrongful Death Lawsuit, What Now?

Unexpected things happen during lawsuits all the time, and that includes defendants dying before the cases conclude. Whether a plaintiff can continue seeking judgement in this situation depends on the jurisdiction where the case is being heard and the defendant's personal circumstances. Here's are a couple of things that may happen if the defendant in your wrongful death lawsuit passes away.

You May Have to Defend Your Lawsuit

It's an unfortunate reality that the American court system is bogged down with cases, which is why it can take a long time for civil lawsuits like wrongful death suits to resolve. Because of this, in some jurisdictions, court clerks will issue a scire facias or similar motion to the defendant's next of kin or estate representative requiring them to explain why the wrongful death lawsuit shouldn't continue to proceed.

This is important because the representative will likely argue the case should be dismissed since the defendant has died. If the representative is successful, your case will be thrown out, forcing you to start all over again with a new one or give up.

The good news is, as the plaintiff, you are required to attend this proceeding, and you'll have the opportunity to make your own case as to why your wrongful death lawsuit should be allowed to move forward despite the defendant's death. It's important to consult with your attorney who can help you make the proper preparations that can increase your chances of overcoming the representative's objections.

You May Be Denied Certain Compensation

Plaintiffs in wrongful death suits are entitled to a variety of compensation, depending on how they were related to the victim. For instance, spouses can collect money for loss of income and loss of consortium as a result of his or her loved one's sudden death. Children of the deceased can also get compensated for the loss of parental guidance.

However, one type of compensation that ceases to be available when a defendant dies in a wrongful death lawsuit is punitive damages. In cases where defendants behaved in extremely reckless and malicious ways, courts will order them to pay punitive damages to the victims as a form of punishment. Since a deceased defendant can no longer experience that punishment, punitive damages become irrelevant.

Sometimes, though, the court will let plaintiffs ask for extra money (i.e. treble damages) above and beyond their losses to account for problematic behavior on the defendant's behalf, so it's worth talking to your attorney about whether this is an option for your case.

For assistance with your case, contact a local wrongful death attorney.