How to File a Wrongful Death Claim in New Jersey

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The passing away of a loved one is always a difficult and painful experience. It can become even more devastating if the death was a result of someone else’s reckless and irresponsible behavior. If you are going through a similar situation, then you can file a wrongful death claim. This claim determines the compensatory money and damages that you should receive due to the wrongful death of your loved one. While money certainly will not help to ease your pain, it can reduce your monetary burden and ensure that you remain financially stable.

Each state in the U.S. has its own statutes and interpretations of “wrongful death.” The wrongful death statute in New Jersey considers death to be wrongful if it is caused by neglect, wrongful actions, or default of another person.

What are the Damages you can Receive?

The literal meaning of the legal term “damages” is the financial compensation that you will receive from the person responsible for the death of your loved one. The wrongful death statute in New Jersey allows you to seek monetary damages such as

  • Loss of income – this includes the wages or salary the deceased would have earned and given to you.
  • Loss of services – this includes the economic value of the loss of assistance, guidance, training, and services that the deceased would have provided you.
  • Funeral and medical expenses that you have incurred.

The statute of wrongful death in New Jersey does not allow you to receive damage for emotional distress or recover punitive damages. However, you may be able to file a separate claim to receive damages for severe emotional distress caused by the death. In truly egregious cases, you may also be able to seek punitive damages.

How to File a Wrongful Death Claim in New Jersey?

Here is a step-by-step guide on what you need to do to file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey.

Step 1. Determine the Applicability of a Wrongful Death Claim

To file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey, you need to determine if the death was indeed wrongful and who is to be held accountable for it. We have listed some of the situations that can lead to the wrongful death of your loved one.

Motor vehicle accidents. Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most common causes of wrongful deaths. Reckless driving, drunk driving, using mobile phones while driving, or simply disregarding traffic laws has resulted in countless cases of wrongful deaths. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that almost 40,000 wrongful deaths in the US are a result of road accidents. Moreover, you can also file a wrongful death case against automotive manufacturers for defective or malfunctioning breaks, tires, seats, etc.

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Medical malpractice. Negligence by healthcare providers such as a surgeon, nurse, or doctor can often prove to be fatal, resulting in wrongful death. If this happens, then you can file a wrongful death claim.

Work-related accidents. This is another common cause of wrongful death. Work-related accidents such as explosions, burns, slip and falls, traumatic head or spine injuries can lead to the premature death of your family member. In this case, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit against your deceased family member’s employers.

Even though motor-vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, work-related accidents are some of the most common causes of wrongful death, there are other causes too. These include airplane crashes, train accidents, product liability cases, animal attacks, assault, and murder.

Step 2. Check your Eligibility

Before you proceed to file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey, you need to determine if you are even eligible to do so. As per the statute of wrongful death in New Jersey, if you are a parent, spouse, child, grandchild, or a family member such as a niece or nephew of the deceased person, then you are eligible to file a wrongful death claim. However, if you do not fall in any of these categories but can still provide evidence that you were financially dependent on the deceased person, then you can also file a wrongful death claim.

Step 3. Remember the Statute of Limitations

There is a two-year statute of limitations applied to a case of wrongful death in New Jersey. This simply means that if you fail to file within this time frame, your claim will not be heard in court. Since these cases are quite complex and it is difficult to collect damages, you should consult an experienced wrongful death lawyer.

Step 4. Collect Evidence of Wrongful Death

A well-maintained record of evidence and documents are extremely important in a wrongful death case. Before you file a wrongful death case, you need to know how your family member died, who is to be held responsible for the death, and the financial losses you have suffered. Since this step is quite complicated and time-consuming, an experienced lawyer can help you collect the necessary evidence and build a strong case.

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The evidence you need to support your case depends on the specifics of your case but there are some common items that you must have for all situations.

Death Certificate. A death certificate provides an official record of your loved one’s death that is verified by the coroner. In New Jersey, you can request the New Jersey Department of Health for a certified copy of the death certificate. 

Medical Records. If your loved one’s death was a result of medical malpractice or if they sustained work-related injuries and received treatment at a hospital before their death, then it is important to obtain complete medical records. These records can include doctor’s notes, consultation records, test reports, medical evaluations, prescriptions, etc.

Autopsy and Police Reports. If your loved one died in a car accident, then police officers would have been called at the scene for investigation. The police officers will have a thorough report containing key findings and evidence. Additionally, an autopsy may also be conducted to determine the cause of death. Both these reports can help strengthen your case and ensure that you get your legal right.

Salary Slips and Tax Returns. These documents are necessary for your lawyer to appraise the value of your wrongful death claim in the subsequent step. Your personal finance records can prove your financial dependence on the deceased and indicate lost wages.

Physical Evidence. Several items are included in this category. For instance, bloodied or torn clothes could indicate assault leading to a murder or a surgical object left in the deceased’s body post-operation.

Photographs and videos. These are the most powerful forms of evidence in almost all cases of wrongful death. Almost everyone today has a smartphone with digital cameras that can be used to your advantage. A photograph or video of the accident with the date and time stamped on it can prove to be really useful when you file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey.

Witness Statements. You should immediately contact people who saw the accident that killed your loved one. You should make a list of their names and contact details. Your wrongful death lawyer can help you interview these people about what they witnessed first-hand and create a report of what occurred. Ideally, these witnesses should also be present in court during the trial and make their statement in front of the judge.

In the case of wrongful death, the credibility and quality of the documents and evidence are much more important than the quantity. A well-experienced attorney will ensure that all the necessary proof is collected. This will help to prove that the cause of your loved one’s death was indeed due to the carelessness of another person.  

Step 5. Determine the Value of your Case

Once your attorney has obtained all the details of your claim, they will be able to calculate the correct worth of your case. To calculate the loss of income, your attorney will take the deceased’s income (including fringe benefits) at the time of their death and multiply it with the number of years the deceased would have worked.  The amount will then be adjusted for taxes and the deceased’s personal expenses.

The calculation for loss of service requires evidence of what it would cost you to have someone else provide these services. For instance, what would a babysitter charge for looking after your children? Lastly, funeral and medical expenses incurred will simply be calculated through bills and receipts from the hospital or funeral service providers.

Step 6. Prepare for Negotiations

Once your attorney has completed a thorough investigation, they will inform the accused party about your plan to pursue monetary recovery for your loss. Often, settlement negotiations occur before a lawsuit is filed in the civil court. An experienced attorney in a wrongful death work with you is extremely necessary to ensure that your claim is not undervalued. Your attorney will also negotiate effectively with the other party and protect you from being worn down by experienced negotiators from the insurance company.

Step 7. Draft and File your case

If negotiations do not reach your desired conclusion and your attorney has adequate evidence that you can receive higher damages for your loss, then they will proceed to file a formal complaint with the civil court. This complaint will include all the supporting evidence collected in the preceding stages, identify the person allegedly responsible for your loved one’s death, and outline the financial damages that your team will be seeking. 

What Happens After You File A Wrongful Death Claim In New Jersey?

After you file a wrongful death claim in New Jersey, the case gets even more complicated. Here are a few steps that you need to take after filing a wrongful death claim. An experienced wrongful death attorney will take care of all these steps, so you won’t have to worry about it.

Step 1. Commence the Wrongful Death Lawsuit

After your case has been filed, your attorney will submit a few documents to officially start the court proceedings. Usually, the first document that needs to be submitted is a petition or complaint. This document will provide the person allegedly responsible for your loved one’s death with a notice containing the factual and legal grounds for the case. The second document that will be submitted is a summon. This document will inform the accused that he is being sued and specify where the case will be heard.

Step 2. Prove the Wrongful Death in Court

To build a strong and viable case, your wrongful death lawyer in New Jersey must have strong proof that the death was indeed a result of neglect, wrongful act, or default. The evidence collected in the previous step will help you and your attorney show the necessary four elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages in a civil court.

Prove Duty

For a defendant to be held responsible for negligence, he or she must have owed your loved one a duty of “due care.” This simply refers to a duty that a defendant needed to fulfill to keep your loved one safe and refrain from undertaking any task that could potentially harm them.

For instance, if you are claiming that the accused was driving under the influence of alcohol when they killed your loved one, then you could make an argument that the alleged driver’s owed your loved one a duty of due care to drive a vehicle responsibly.  In a case of wrongful death, the judge will determine if the accused owed your loved one a duty of due care.

Prove Breach of Duty

If the judge concludes that a duty did exist, you will then present your evidence to prove that the accused breached that duty. For instance, you can use reports to prove that the defendant was indeed under the influence of alcohol and was not concentrating on the road while driving when he crashed into your loved one’s car. This clearly indicates that the defendant has breached the duty of due care. As with all civil cases, you or your attorney will have to convince the jury that the likelihood of your evidence to be true is more than 50 percent.

Prove Causation

You must then proceed to prove that the breach of duty did cause the wrongful death of your loved one. For instance, you will now have to prove that the accused cars did hit your loved one’s car and not any other vehicle.

Prove Damages

You must then provide evidence that your loved one suffered an injury that caused their death. In the case of wrongful death, damages will be pursued for death.

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Final Words

We know that there is nothing more distressing than the death of a loved one. In these challenging times, we would like to extend our service to you to ease your pain. We are experienced at handling wrongful death cases and can get you through these difficult times. Although we know that no amount of money can make up for the loss, we can help you receive the full compensation that you are legally entitled to so that you have one less thing to worry about.

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