If you have lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful act, you may wonder if you have a legal claim for compensation. In our state, the law allows certain family members or personal representatives of the deceased person to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible for the death.
What is wrongful death in Montana?
Montana law defines wrongful death as occurring when “injuries to and the death of one person are caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.” This means that if a person dies as a result of someone else’s legal fault, such as negligence, recklessness or intentional harm, the surviving family members or personal representatives can sue the liable party for damages. Some common causes of wrongful death include car accidents, medical malpractice, workplace accidents, defective products, etc.
Who can file?
The only person who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Montana is the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. The personal representative is usually appointed by the court or named in the deceased person’s will. The personal representative acts as a trustee of the lawsuit and distributes any damages awarded to the appropriate heirs.
The heirs who can receive damages in a wrongful death lawsuit are the spouse of the deceased person, minor children of the deceased parent and the parents of the deceased minor child. In some cases, the parents of a deceased adult child may also receive damages, but only if they can show that they had an extraordinarily close and interdependent relationship with their child, such as when the child was their caretaker.
What damages can be recovered?
The damages that can be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit in Montana are meant to compensate the surviving family members for the losses they suffered as a result of their loved one’s death. These damages may include the funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses incurred by the deceased person before death and the loss of income and benefits that the deceased person would have earned.
It can also include the loss of companionship, care, comfort and guidance that the deceased person provided. This is in addition to pain and suffering endured by the deceased person before death, and it could include punitive damages, which are meant to punish the liable party for malicious or egregious conduct (these are rare and subject to statutory limits).
The amount and distribution of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit depend on various factors, such as the relationship between the heirs and the deceased person, the age and health of the deceased person and the degree of fault. A jury or a judge will determine the appropriate damages.