Should I File a Wrongful Death Claim After a Suspicious Death?

December 6, 2021 Insights

A suspicious death or “unexplained death” is considered when the causes and circumstances surrounding a fatality are unclear. This includes deaths that occur without any witnesses present, those that occur under medical care or in nursing homes, or any that do not have a suitable legal or medical explanation.

The tragedy of losing a loved one can be compounded by the confusion and uncertainty in situations like these. But in their aftermath, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim to recover damages under the laws of your state.

How Is a Suspicious Death Defined?

When someone passes away, their medical team, the coroner or law enforcement try to determine the contributing factors and circumstances surrounding the death. This includes the person’s age, illnesses they may have suffered from or an accident that happened. But when these figures cannot state with confidence what happened to your loved one, such as because the evidence is unclear, or because no one was with the victim when they died to say for sure how it happened, the death may be considered suspicious. 

Situations like these sometimes involve foul play or negligence on the part of a third-party, which is where the specter of wrongful death comes in.

What Are the Rules for Filing Wrongful Death Claims?

Every state has their own rules and regulations concerning wrongful death claims. Kentucky, for example, defines “wrongful death” by statute as being “whenever the death of a person results from an injury inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another.” 

A large number of suspicious death situations could meet this definition, but a few examples include:

  • Medical-related deaths, including malpractice cases committed by physicians or hospitals
  • Negligent security cases involving tragedies that happen on private property, from stabbings and shootings to deadly slip-and-fall accidents
  • Criminal acts such as homicide. Even if a criminal case is open, it is often still possible for the victim to file a civil suit against the perpetrator or perpetrator. 

Remember, in criminal trials, the state, and not the victim of the crime, is technically the plaintiff. This means a civil suit may be the victim’s best recourse for damages. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Most states allow for family members of the victim to file a wrongful death claim in court. Kentucky, however, is unique in that the executor or “personal representative” of the victim’s estate must be the filer. 

Two exceptions to this exist, including if the death was caused by a deadly weapon, or if the victim was a minor under the age of 18. At that point, a spouse or child, or parents may file or join the claim.

Under Kentucky law, the victim’s survivors recover damages from a wrongful death suit according to a certain order. If only a spouse survives, with no children, the spouse receives the entirety of the damages. If children survive, though, they either equally split the awarded damages, or receive the entirety of the damages in cases where there is no surviving spouse. 

Surviving parent(s) come next, followed by the estate and those named in it, if no family members survive the victim.

How Long After a Suspicious Death Do I Have to File a Claim?

It is important to note that a statute of limitations applies to wrongful death claims, which in Kentucky is a year from the date on which the victim’s executor is appointed, or two years from the date of the victim’s death if the executor is named over a year from the date of the death.

With this in mind, it’s important to get in touch with a skilled wrongful death lawyer as soon as possible to set the process in motion. The team at Circeo Law Firm are here for you to provide a free, confidential consultation when the tragedy of a suspicious death strikes.