Wrongful Death Lawsuits And Survival Actions: What You Should Understand About The Difference

What's the difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action? To non-legal ears, they sound very much like the same thing, but they are worlds apart when it comes to how they work inside a courtroom. If you are considering a wrongful death lawsuit over the loss of a close relative, you should be aware of the possibility that you should also file a survival action.

What are the unique factors of a wrongful death claim?

A wrongful death claim can be brought on behalf of a close relative (exactly which ones can legally file vary from state to state) of a deceased victim. It can also be brought on behalf of the estate of the deceased, which sometimes allows relatives that wouldn't otherwise be able to collect anything from their loved one's unnecessary death to collect on the lawsuit through inheritance.

The most striking difference between wrongful death claims and other types of personal injury claims is that they aren't about the victim's death so much as they are about what the survivors of that victim have lost because of his or her death. While that loss is ultimately measured in dollar amounts, the actual loss can be a combination of things that include final expenses, burial costs, lost financial support over the deceased's expected lifetime, lost guidance (especially in the cases of parents who left behind minor children), and lost love and companionship.

It essentially picks up from the moment the victim died and starts looking at the losses brought about by that death.

What makes a survival action different?

A survival action may or may not be included with a wrongful death claim—it depends wholly on the circumstances of each case. That's because a survival action is entirely about the pain and suffering and losses incurred by the deceased between the moment of injury and the moment of death.

If the victim died instantly, there's no survival action because he or she isn't considered to have suffered any losses that the court can address without a wrongful death claim. Legally speaking, the victim (or the victim's estate) can't collect for his or her own death through a survival action.

The only damages that can be awarded in a survival action are those that the victim could have received if he or she had recovered. That would include things like medical expenses (for attempts to revive him or her or any period of time that he or she lingered on in the hospital), lost wages, and pain and suffering. 

How can you tell if you have a right to a survival action?

The best thing that you can do is consult with an attorney. It's important to realize that a victim doesn't have to live long after the negligent event that caused his or her death to be due a significant injury settlement. For example, the widow of a man killed by a collapsed crane in New York City is bringing both a wrongful death and a survival action against the city, and the survival action rests on the very brief time that her husband would have known that the crane was falling and would likely kill him and when he actually died on the scene.

If you're unsure about whether or not you have the right to bring either a wrongful death or a survival action, contact an attorney today. Find more info by talking to an attorney.