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What Can a Wrongful Death Lawyer Do for You?

white person wearing black suit resting their hand on a wooden coffin against a church wall.
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Madeleine Jones
April 28, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “accidental and unintentional” deaths kill over 200,000 Americans every year. But for the most part, these incidents are neither accidental nor unintentional. People accidentally leave the water running. They don’t accidentally fall on steps that are structurally unsound or drive under the influence of painkillers and cause car wrecks. Similarly, such incidents are unintentional only in the sense that they aren’t malicious. Otherwise, they’re intentional. These individuals know they are putting other people at risk when they refuse to address hazards on their property or get behind the wheel of a car.

Blame for such incidents is a criminal court matter. Compensation for such incidents is a civil court matter. When a sudden and unexpected wrongful death occurs, survivors quite frankly need money to pay final expenses, like medical bills. They also deserve compensation, so they can try to carry on with their lives. So, a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer works hard to obtain this compensation. Usually, our legal team settles these cases out of court, so survivors have less to deal with and have more control over the final outcome.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

As mentioned, criminal courts punish people who cause bodily injury. Civil courts compensate the survivors. We’re all familiar with this idea. If Jack forgets to water Jill’s plants while she’s on vacation, Jack should replace the dead plants (pay compensation), although he didn’t maliciously kill them. Similarly, if Jack rear-ends Jill on the freeway, Jack should pay compensation, even though he didn’t mean to hurt her.

From an emotional and legal perspective, there’s a very big difference between a deceased plant and a deceased person. So, the compensation a Nevada wrongful death lawyer can obtain usually includes money for:

  • Final expenses, like a funeral, cremation, and/or burial expenses,
  • Medical bills related to the decedent’s final injury or illness,
  • Lost future emotional support,
  • Decedent’s pain and suffering, and
  • Lost future financial support.

Survivors might also be able to recover compensation for their own grief and pain. This compensation could be available in a wrongful death claim. But more frequently, a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer must file a separate legal action, using a theory like negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Some components of the compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit are straightforward. For example, the decedent’s medical records often conclusively establish the amount of medical bills. However, some components are more subjective. How can anyone put a price tag on something like lost future emotional support, especially if the decedent was a child?

In these cases, a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer usually partners with an accountant, psychologist, or another outside professional.

When Do You Need a Wrongful Death Lawyer?

If the insurance company or other defendant immediately does the right thing and pays fair compensation in all the areas mentioned above, there’s no need to work with a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer. But these companies aren’t usually that cooperative. Not by a long shot. 

Insurance companies make money when they collect premiums. They lose money when they pay claims. Furthermore, despite what TV commercials often imply, most insurance companies care almost nothing about accident victims, especially non-policyholder accident victims.

Even if the insurance company refuses to pay a valid claim, wrongful death survivors don’t technically need lawyers. Nevada courts are open to everyone, and Nevada judges must treat everyone with respect. However, courts and judges also use complex rules of procedure and evidence. Litigants, whether or not they are Las Vegas wrongful death lawyers, are expected to know all of them. Most judges have very little patience for individuals who don’t know the rules.

If you decide to work with a lawyer, the sooner you partner with an attorney, the better. It’s difficult to play catch-up in an athletic arena, and it’s difficult to play catch-up in a legal arena. When you search for a wrongful death lawyer, focus on these three areas during your initial consultation:

  • Accessibility: The lawyer you meet with should also be the person who handles most of the work on your case. Large firms often delegate work to less-experienced associates or non-lawyer paralegals. So, the person you trust with your wrongful death claim has little to do with the outcome.
  • Experience: Las Vegas wrongful death lawyers often stress their years of experience. That’s important, but this figure could be misleading. Your attorney also should have substantial trial experience. You don’t want a lawyer who looks for a quick way out of a problem.
  • Dedication: Doing anything well requires commitment. Attorneys who just handle a few injuries or wrongful death matters on the side aren’t committed to this area of law. Your claim deserves more.

Time is of the essence in these situations. You can save time by doing some research on Las Vegas wrongful death lawyers and eliminating the ones who clearly fall short in a key category.

What are the Legal Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim?

The three largest injury-related death categories: falls, car wrecks, and poisonings (mostly drug overdoses) illustrate the three major kinds of wrongful death cases.

Fall wrongful death claims usually involve negligence or a lack of care. The basic elements of a negligence case are:

  • Duty,
  • Breach,
  • Cause, and
  • Damages.

Duty and breach are usually the two key elements of negligence in a fall claim. Cause, thanks to a legal doctrine called res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself), is normally straightforward. Damages are usually apparent from medical bills and other such evidence.

The duty of care (legal responsibility) is highest when the victim has permission to be on the property and the victim’s presence benefits the owner in some way. Most victims are in this category. The benefit could be economic, like foot traffic in a store, or non-economic, like the social benefit of a dinner guest.

In a premises liability case (more on that below), breach of duty is related to knowledge of the hazard. Owners breach the duty of care if they know, or should know, about a wet spot on a floor or another fall hazard, but they don’t adequately address it. In court, a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer must prove actual or constructive knowledge by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).

Many car wreck claims also involve the ordinary negligence doctrine. Drowsy driving is a good example. Driving while fatigued is not against the law. But such behavior violates a driver’s duty of care. Motorists cannot drive defensively if they can barely keep their eyes open.

Other car wreck claims hinge on the negligence per se rule. Ordinary negligence is a violation of the duty of reasonable care. Negligence per se is a violation of safety law, as the DUI law. Tortfeasors (negligent actors) could be responsible for damages as a matter of law if:

  • They violate a safety law, and
  • That violation substantially causes injury.

Frequently, there’s a difference between legal responsibility and financial responsibility. If a fatigued Uber driver caused a crash, the company, and not the driver, is financially responsible for the aforementioned damages. Vicarious liability is very important in such claims. Most individual drivers don’t have nearly enough insurance to cover all losses in wrongful death claims.

Drug overdose wrongful death claims often involve the defective product rule. For many years, Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers manufactured opioid painkillers that are stronger and more addictive than heroin. These and other manufacturers are strictly liable for damages in the following situations:

  • Design Defect: Many painkillers weren’t designed with consumer safety in mind. Instead, these companies basically competed against each other to create the strongest possible painkiller. Innocent victims paid the price.
  • Manufacturing Defect: Improper manufacturing, storage, shipping, and other procedures could make safe drugs into dangerous drugs. Zantac is a good example. If this heartburn medicine is improperly stored, it becomes contaminated with NDMA (N-nitrosodimethylamine), one of the most dangerous carcinogens in the world.

Basically, strict liability means there’s no need to prove negligence or recklessness. Instead, a Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer must only prove the victim ingested a dangerous drug and died as a result. A few limited defenses are available in defective product claims, but they only apply in a few situations.

Once again, there could be some overlap with the elements of negligence. Property owners could negligently provide a place for addicts to use drugs, or a doctor could negligently write a prescription without asking questions.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Civil Suit?

This section will be brief. Usually, either the decedent’s personal representative or a surviving immediate family member may file a wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada.

The estate administrator and personal representative are usually the same person. If a decedent didn’t name a personal representative, and the decedent has no surviving close relatives, a judge usually appoints someone to assume this mantle.

What are the Different Types of Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

We mentioned three types of wrongful death claims above. In this section, we’ll go into more detail about these claims and explore some other possible wrongful death actions.

Car Wrecks

car wreck with small red car with severe damage to front bumper and window in the middle of the street. There are two cars surrounding it

Driver impairment causes most of the fatal vehicle collisions in Nevada. The leading types of driver impairment are:

  • Alcohol: Authorities began cracking down on drunk drivers in the mid-1990s. This crackdown has basically failed. The proportion of alcohol-related fatal crashes is almost as high today as it was in the 1990s. The impairing effects of alcohol, such as clouded judgment and slow reflexes, begin with the first drink.
  • Drugs: We talked about drug overdoses above. If people take these drugs even with a prescription and try to drive, the results are often disastrous for other people on the road. Almost half of the motorists who caused fatal crashes tested positive for painkillers, marijuana, or another drug. 
  • Fatigue: drowsiness and alcohol affect the human brain in roughly the same way. In fact, driving after eighteen consecutive hours, which many people do on their way home from work every day, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. That’s above the legal limit for some operators in Nevada.

Operational errors include making an unsafe turn, speeding, and ignoring a traffic control device. Operational errors are relative. For example, when conditions are less than ideal, motorists have a legal duty to slow down and drive more carefully. But many drivers ignore this duty.

Dog Bites

small  brown dog attacking a chewy toy

Because lawmakers try to balance the interests of pet owners with the interests of dog bite victims, the animal attack laws in Nevada are quite complex. Wrongful death survivors usually have several legal options in these cases, including:

  • Ordinary Negligence: The duty of care, and the aforementioned elements of negligence, apply in these cases. For example, a teacher could be negligent if he allows small children to play near a strange dog.
  • Scienter (Knowledge): Most wrongful death claims involve the so-called one-bite rule. Owners are liable for wrongful death damages if they know an animal could be dangerous and that animal attacks someone. Evidence of knowledge often includes snarling, growling, lunging, and other pre-bite behavior.
  • Negligence Per Se: Clark County and other local governments usually have animal restraint laws, like leash or fence laws. If owners violate one of these rules and that violation substantially causes injury, the owner could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

Tragically, most dog bite wrongful death victims are small children. A Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer must deal with some unique legal, financial, and emotional issues in these cases.1925

Violent Assaults

Individuals are legally responsible for violent assault injuries. Property owners could be financially responsible for these incidents. Negligent security is a subset of premises liability, the area of law that includes swimming pool drownings, falls, and other on-premises injuries.

Foreseeability (possibility) is usually the most important issue for Las Vegas wrongful death lawyers in violent assault claims. Property owners are only responsible for these incidents if the injury was foreseeable. Evidence of foreseeability includes prior similar incidents at that property, the neighborhood’s reputation as a high crime area, the type of business, and prior similar incidents in the area.

Nursing Home Wrongful Death Lawsuits

old person in  awheelchair staring out into a window. The room is dark and the curtains are pulled across. They look depressed.

As Nevada’s population ages, these incidents are becoming more and more common. Nursing home wrongful death lawsuits could include:

  • Abuse: Nursing home abuse is an intentional injury. Examples include physical abuse, financial abuse, and emotional abuse.
  • Neglect: Bedsores, falls, and resident-on-resident assaults are among the most common nursing home neglect injuries. These incidents are not malicious injuries.

Most nursing home wrongful death lawsuits involve decedents with pre-existing conditions. Usually, an insurance company cannot use a pre-existing medical or other condition as an excuse to reduce or deny wrongful death compensation, even if the condition increased the risk or severity of injury.

On-the-Job Injuries

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Fatal Four cause most of the fatal workplace accidents in Nevada. The Fatal Four are:

  • Falls: The injury could be a slip-and-fall or a fall from a height. These injuries are quite common and easily preventable. 
  • Electrocution: It’s very difficult to distinguish between a dead wire and a live one at a busy construction site. These wires carry an immense amount of energy.
  • Struck By: The old story that a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building is fatal to a pedestrian is partially true. Objects dropped from a height gather an immense amount of speed.
  • Caught Between: Frequently, these injuries occur when a worker is “caught between” a large vehicle, like a dump truck, and a fixed object, like a retaining wall.

Workers’ compensation applies to some of these wrongful death claims. But some companies don’t have workers’ compensation insurance. Additionally, these policies, like all other policies, don’t cover all wrongful death losses. A Las Vegas wrongful death lawyer usually has additional legal options in these situations.

Slip-and-Falls

a person wearing a cast on their left arm is filling out a form with the right hand. The form is titled 'Slip and Fall Accident Report'

We discussed the elements of a slip-and-fall claim above. Common defenses in these and other wrongful death lawsuits include comparative fault and assumption of the risk.

Comparative fault shifts blame for an injury from one party to another one. In a slip-and-fall claim, the insurance company essentially argues that the victim didn’t watch where s/he was stepping. Assumption of the risk usually hinges on a “Caution: Construction Area” or other warning sign.

Who Pays for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Our Las Vegas wrongful death lawyers work on a contingent fee basis. We don’t charge any upfront legal fees. Instead, our payment is a small percentage of the final settlement. We also advance most litigation costs, such as filing fees and expert witness fees.

What’s the Statute of Limitations in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Normally, wrongful death survivors have two years to bring a wrongful death claim in court. This time deadline usually doesn’t affect trauma injury claims, like falls and car wrecks. But it could come into play in toxic exposure and other such claims. Diseases like cancer usually have very long latency periods. By the time these individuals know they are sick, the two-year statute of limitations has long since passed.

Thanks to the discovery rule, these victims still have legal options. Under Nevada law, victims don’t have to file claims until they fully know the complete extent of their injuries and they connect those injuries with a tortfeasor’s conduct or misconduct.

Contact an Experienced Clark County Wrongful Death Lawyer

Wrongful death survivors are often entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced wrongful death lawyer in Las Vegas, contact the Cogburn Law at (702) 748-7777.

I was hesitant about getting a lawyer for many reasons, however the entire staff at Cogburn Law reassured me that everything would be okay. They were always very attentive and provided detailed answers to any questions I had. I would like to thank the entire staff for all of your hard work, making sure that my daughters and I were compensated for the accident, and making sure we received all the necessary treatment. You were awesome. If you need an attorney that won’t look at you as just another case number, that’ll return your calls/emails I definitely recommend this team.

Jessica F.