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What is a wrongful death claim in NJ?
When an individual dies due to the fault of another individual or a company, the family of the deceased may be able to pursue a wrongful death claim under the New Jersey Wrongful Death Act. See N.J.S.A. § 2A:31-1. The fundamental purpose of the Wrongful Death Act is to compensate for pecuniary losses suffered by the survivors of those killed by a wrongful act, neglect or default. Tenore v. Nu Car Carriers, Inc., 67 N.J. 466 (1975).
A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that is separate from criminal charges and can be pursued even if the allegedly responsible party is cleared of criminal charges. One of our NJ wrongful death lawyers will need to prove that the individual or company was at fault for the deceased person's death.
Who can sue for wrongful death in NJ?
Under the Wrongful Death Act, wrongful death claims are brought by the administrator ad prosequendum of the decedent for whose death damages are sought. If the decedent left a will, the executor named in the will brings the action. However, it is important to understand that more than one family member can be entitled to share in a potential recovery. See N.J.S.A. § 2A:31-4.
Who can be held responsible for a wrongful death in NJ?
Both companies and individuals that are believed to be responsible for the death of an individual can have a wrongful death lawsuit brought against them. Further, a wrongful death claim can be brought about against another deceased individual; in this event, the claim will be paid out by the person's estate if they are found responsible. This is common in motor vehicle accidents through which the responsible party did not survive.
There are some individuals and companies that cannot be sued for a wrongful death. These are highly specific situations, such as government agents, and they vary depending on geographic location. For this reason, a lawyer should always be consulted regarding a wrongful death case early on.
Wrongful death claims can be raised even if criminal charges have been dropped, but the two types of charges are not entirely separate: a wrongful death claim may benefit if the individual or entity alleged to be responsible was found guilty of criminal charges.
Wrongful Death Compensation in NJ
Wrongful death and survivorship claims will provide for the financial and non-financial effects of the individual's death. The Wrongful Death Act provides to the decedent's heirs a right of recovery for pecuniary damages for their direct losses as a result of their relative's death due to the tortious conduct of another. Pecuniary (economic) damages may include but are not limited to the loss of the deceased individual's wages, the expenses of their final arrangements including medical and funeral expenses, a loss of any benefits the individual might have had and any other gains that the individual would have reasonably acquired throughout their life. Thus, a wrongful death action compensates the survivors for the pecuniary losses they suffer. In order to determine the amount of pecuniary losses, one must calculate the amount of money the deceased individual would have earned throughout their life. There are usually many factors that are taken into consideration: the amount of time the individual would have been expected to live, their education, their current career, their investments and more.
In contrast, non-pecuniary damages usually include pain and suffering for the surviving family members. Pain and suffering damages are usually claimed and recovered under the New Jersey Survivor's Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-1. The New Jersey Survivor's Act provides that an appointed representative or administrator may file any personal cause of action that the decedent could have brought had he lived. Aronberg v. Tolbert, 207 N.J. 587 (2011).
The Survivor's Act was intended to be supplementary to the Wrongful Death Act and its main purpose was to afford complete and adequate redress to the estates of those who were injured in person or property by injuries causing death by allowing the decedent's estate to recover any loss to the decedent that accrued between injury and death. Smith v. Whitaker, 160 N.J. 221, 234 (1999).
Furthermore, the New Jersey Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are permissible under the Survivor's Act.
Getting Started With a Wrongful Death Claim
It's important for a wrongful death claim to be explored as soon as possible. The statute of limitations on a wrongful death claim is two years in NJ with exceptions, and only a wrongful death attorney will be able to tell the deceased's family members whether a wrongful death claim is appropriate. Wrongful death and survivor's claims can be extremely complex, making it absolutely essential for someone considering a wrongful death/survivor's claim to acquire professional advice.
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