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Massachusetts Wrongful Death Lawyer

Following the loss of a loved one, the thought of filing a lawsuit may seem overwhelming. At Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP, our Massachusetts personal injury lawyers are fully aware of the stress and emotion associated with these claims. We are sensitive to the needs of the surviving family members and provide support and guidance at every step in the process. We will diligently pursue all available means of compensation for those affected by a wrongful death.

The statute of limitations in Massachusetts limits the amount of time in which wrongful death claims may be filed. If you think you may have a wrongful death claim, call the dedicated professionals at Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP immediately at (617)-391-9001 or contact us online.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Massachusetts?

According to the Massachusetts General Laws, only the executor or the deceased’s administrator can file a wrongful death claim. An administrator or executor has a certain set of responsibilities, such as paying the debts of the deceased and finalizing the affairs of his or her estate. Usually, the executor is a person named in the deceased’s will. If the deceased does not leave a will, the court will grant administrative privileges to another trusted individual.

While executors or administrators must file the claim themselves, the family of the deceased may still want to be involved with the suit and receive compensatory damages. Without a will, a Massachusetts court will also determine the future of the deceased’s estate through intestate succession rules. The court’s award compensation based on the next of kin, in the following order.

  • Spouse, if married at the time of death
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Other next of kin

The administrator or executor must file the lawsuit directly in civil court. Under Massachusetts law, all damages an executor recovers in a wrongful death claim go to the deceased’s estate. In addition, the administrator of the estate may file a wrongful death lawsuit if a criminal case involving the deceased person’s death is happening at the same time.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when another party’s negligence, carelessness, or reckless behavior caused a person’s death. Lawsuits for wrongful death intend to recover compensatory damages for the loved ones of the deceased person, covering costs such as mental anguish and funeral expenses. Wrongful death lawsuits also intend to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions.

These civil suits are not the same as criminal charges – an executor or administrator can file wrongful death claims in civil court, not criminal court. This individual can file a wrongful death lawsuit even if a criminal case is occurring at the same time. The deceased’s attorney does not need to prove that the at-fault party intended to harm the deceased when the accident occurred. Courts award monetary compensation in wrongful death claims, not criminal sentences.

Wrongful death claims can involve a number of scenarios, such as:

  • Defective and dangerous products
  • Car accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Construction site accidents
  • Dangerous work conditions
  • Slip and fall accidents

Massachusetts states that a person, company, or any group of people may be liable for the wrongful death of a person if the at-fault party commits any of the following breaches:

  • A breach of warranty
  • Negligence
  • Recklessness or wantonness

Massachusetts Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

Every wrongful death lawsuit filed in Massachusetts is subject to a statute of limitations defined by the state. Massachusetts requires the executor or administrator of the estate file the wrongful death claim within three years of the date of death. If the executor does not file the claim within this time period, Massachusetts civil courts will likely not hear the case.

In some circumstances, an executor or administrator may not know that the accident that killed the deceased would be grounds for a wrongful death claim. In these cases, the courts require that the executor file the claim within three years of the date that he or she first knew or should have known that the accident could be grounds for a wrongful death claim.

Requirements For Wrongful Death Claim in Massachusetts

When determining if the case’s circumstances could have grounds for a wrongful death claim, the executor should consider if the deceased would have had grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit if he or she was alive. If the answer is yes, the executor can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts civil court.

However, Massachusetts imposes several requirements for who can file a wrongful death claim:

  • An executor cannot file a wrongful death claim against an employer whose employee dies while working.
  • An executor cannot file a wrongful death claim against a railroad company if the deceased died in an accident while near or on the railroad tracks.
  • An executor cannot file a wrongful death claim against a streetcar company if the deceased died in an accident on or near the streetcar tracks. However, he or she may be able to file a claim if the tracks were crossing a road or sidewalk at the scene of the accident.

If any of the above situations apply to a wrongful death situation, the executor cannot file a wrongful death lawsuit in Massachusetts civil court. However, speaking with a wrongful death attorney can help the executor determine other pathways toward compensation. He or she may be able to file an insurance claim or enter a separate claims process run by a government agency.

Damages in Wrongful Death Claims

The types of damages that may be awarded in a wrongful death action are:

  • Loss of future net income
  • Loss of love and companionship
  • Pain and suffering
  • The lost expectation of inheritance
  • Loss of support

At Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP, we understand that wrongful death is a profoundly tragic event. The families of the decedent are left with extremely difficult emotional and financial losses. No amount of money can ever replace the love and support of a family member. This being said, a wrongful death claim can assist in easing the financial burden imposed by the decedent’s loss.

What Is Compensation Like in Wrongful Death Cases?

Compensatory damages in wrongful death cases can provide significant financial relief to the survivors of the deceased. While no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss, the damages can help lift the burden of the immediate family members when it comes to final costs such as funeral expenses.

Under Massachusetts state law, families can recover the following forms of damages in wrongful death lawsuits:

Funeral and Burial Expenses

The family can recover reasonable compensation to cover the funeral and burial expenses of the deceased. Funeral expenses often become debts of the deceased’s estate and usually do not go directly to the beneficiaries, since courts award damages long after the funeral took place.

Loss of Consortium

When a loved one passes away, families lose many social and emotional supports. Consortium damages intend to cover these losses. They refer to the loss of care, society, companionship, advice, comfort, protection, guidance, assistance, and counsel.

Loss of Income

If the deceased provided income to family members, the lawsuit can claim lost wages. The courts determine the amount of these damages by calculating how much the deceased would have made if he or she survived. This form of compensation can provide significant relief to the family of the deceased, especially if he or she was the primary breadwinner.

Conscious Pain and Suffering

Families can recover pain and suffering on behalf of the deceased. Courts calculate these damages based on the experience of the deceased between the time of injury and the time of death. If the deceased died instantly and was not aware of impending death, the family may not receive these damages. However, if the deceased died instantly but suffered from fear of the impending death, the courts may award these damages.

Punitive Damages

In situations where malicious conduct, gross negligence, or extreme negligence caused the death, courts may award punitive damages to the family. The purpose of these damages is to punish the defendant and discourage him or her from performing the same action again.

In some wrongful death cases, Massachusetts imposes a cap on the number of damages that a family can collect. Medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts impose a $500,000 cap in damages for families. In addition, courts only infrequently award punitive damages.

Unlike many other states, Massachusetts does not allow families to collect damages for medical expenses related to the accident before the deceased passed away. However, some cases may be eligible for a survival action as well as the wrongful death claim. This action allows the family to collect compensation for losses suffered by the deceased, such as final medical costs.

Who Could Be Liable for Wrongful Death?

If someone is liable for your loved one’s death, it means he or she is legally obligated to repay the damages associated with your loss. The liable party will be the person or entity most at fault for causing the fatality. To determine liability for wrongful death, a law firm may have to investigate the fatal accident for evidence of another person’s negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Then, your family may be able to file a lawsuit against that party.

A Driver

Your family might have a case against a driver in Massachusetts if he or she caused a fatal car accident that took your loved one’s life. Common causes of fatal accidents include driver distraction, drowsiness, drunk driving and recklessness. If you lost a loved one due to negligence of a driver, our Massachusetts car accident lawyers can help.

A Doctor

If you believe some form of medical malpractice took your family member’s life, you may have a case against a physician, hospital or emergency room for the patient’s wrongful death.

A Property Owner

Property owners may be liable if premises defects such as fire hazards or aggressive dogs cause wrongful death. Property owners have a responsibility to maintain reasonably safe premises in Massachusetts.

A Product Manufacturer

Defective products can cause wrongful death. Examples of dangerous products include medications, medical devices and automobile parts. A product manufacturer or distributor could be liable for these fatal incidents.

The Government

Your family may be able to hold the government responsible if its employees caused your loved one’s wrongful death. Claims against the government in Massachusetts have deadlines of two years from the date of death.

A Criminal

Wrongful death could occur at the hands of a violent criminal. If this is the case, the perpetrator could face criminal charges as well as civil liability. You may have a longer deadline to file your claim during an ongoing criminal case against the offender.

Your case could involve multiple defendants. In these situations, the courts may assign joint and several liability to all defendants. Each party will then be independently responsible for repaying the full extent of your family’s damages. Cases involving multiple defendants can be more difficult to navigate on your own. Working with an attorney from Sweeney Merrigan Law, LLP can make it easier to determine who is at fault for your loved one’s recent passing.

Wrongful Death in the Workplace

Fatal workplace accidents are more common than most people realize. In 2017, 4,674 workers lost their lives in workplace accidents around the country. Construction is statistically the deadliest industry for workers, but fatalities can occur in virtually any workplace. If you lost a loved one in a work-related accident, you may not fully understand your rights. You could qualify for recovery through both a workers’ compensation claim and a wrongful death lawsuit depending on the situation.

The workers’ compensation system in Massachusetts offers death benefits to the employee’s spouse, children and other dependents. Certain surviving beneficiaries can receive weekly checks to pay for losses. Losses may include burial expenses and gross wages, up to a maximum. This maximum changes year by year. Your family will typically not have to prove fault to qualify for these benefits. Accepting them, however, means forfeiting the option of filing a lawsuit against your loved one’s employer. If you have questions about a workers’ compensation claim and want to explore your legal rights, our Massachusetts wrongful death lawyers can help.

It could be in your family’s best interest to file a negligence suit against the employer instead of accepting a workers’ compensation settlement if you believe the employer contributed to your loved one’s death. A lawsuit could result in better recovery than death benefits through workers’ compensation. Your family could be eligible for recovery through both outlets if someone other than the employer is responsible for the death, such as a coworker or product manufacturer.

“The whole legal process was very foreign to me, but Pete was very helpful and explained everything in a clear and concise manner. If I had any questions or concerns I didn’t hesitate to call Pete to ease my mind. The professionalism and service of Sweeney Merrigan Law was First Class.” – Sean

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