Losing a family member is always traumatic, but especially so when that death could have been prevented. Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire law provide remedies for people who have lost family members to someone else’s negligence, or to reckless or intentional actions.
In many ways, wrongful death claims are similar to personal injury, medical malpractice, or product liability cases. The most obvious and significant difference between these types of cases and a wrongful death suit is that the injured party is no longer with us, and so a wrongful death suit is brought on behalf of the estate or the surviving family members. The exact process differs from state to state.
However, there are other differences as well. For example, the available damages in a wrongful death claim may differ. And, the legal standard for proving liability is slightly different.
The answer to this question differs from state to state. In some states, the right belongs to the estate of the deceased, and in others to surviving family members. Which family members are eligible for compensation also varies.
In Massachusetts, all wrongful death claims must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. However, there are two separate claims with separate beneficiaries. One type of claim is brought on behalf of surviving family members. In this claim, the personal representative can pursue compensation for a wide range of losses, including loss of income, loss of services, and loss of companionship, counsel, guidance, care, and other normal benefits of the familial relationship. This claimant may also include compensation for funeral and burial expenses.
The second type of claim belongs to the estate itself. On behalf of the estate, the personal representative may bring a claim for intangible damages to the deceased. These are the damages that would typically be described as “pain and suffering” if the plaintiff had survived, and are limited to pre-death suffering caused by the injury.
The treatment of any compensation recovered under these two different types of wrongful death claims is different. Compensation secured on behalf of surviving family members goes directly to those family members. However, compensation secured on behalf of the estate is treated like any other estate property. While this may ultimately end up distributed to family members, these funds may also be used to settle debts of the estate, pay taxes, and pay bequests to non-family members or more distant family members who are named in the deceased’s will or would inherit under the law of intestate succession.
New Hampshire also provides two separate paths to compensation for wrongful death. However, both the procedures and the damages available differ. In New Hampshire, surviving spouses and minor children of the deceased have a direct claim. But, there is a cap on the damages payable. For a surviving spouse, the maximum is $150,000 as compensation for the loss of comfort, society, and companionship. A similar benefit is available to minor children, up to $50,000 per child.
In contrast, the wrongful death claims of the estate are much broader in New Hampshire. In fact, they are closely comparable to the claims the deceased would have had if he or she had survived. For example, the wrongful death claim of the estate in New Hampshire may include expenses triggered by the injury, pain and suffering, and lost earnings due to decrease in working years.
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for a wrongful death claim is the same as the statute of limitations for a personal injury case – – three years. As a practical matter, wrongful death claims are typically filed sooner, as part of the administration of the deceased estate.
In New Hampshire, the timelines are much more complicated. While New Hampshire technically has a six-year statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations on some specific claims that would be included in a wrongful death case are shorter. That means that even though a wrongful death case might be filed up to six years after the victim passed away, the damages available might be significantly diminished. Thus, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced wrongful-death attorney as early as possible to ensure claims are not lost due to the passage of time.
Whether you are a surviving family member or the personal representative of the estate of someone who was killed through somebody else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional action, the first step toward securing fair compensation is to educate yourself about wrongful death claims. The best source of that information is an experienced wrongful death attorney in your state.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick brings wrongful death claims in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He offers free consultations to ensure that you have the access to the information you need to plan your next steps. You can schedule yours right now by calling 978-459-1792 or filling out the contact form on this site.
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