Wrongful death is a cause of action in civil lawsuits that follow deaths caused by the negligence or willful acts of others. Like a personal injury case, the central issue in wrongful death is whether the defendant was negligent toward the injured person, and whether the negligence caused the injury that led to death. Unlike ordinary personal injury cases, wrongful death cases are brought not by the injured person but by that person’s heirs or personal representatives.
Standing requirement for bringing a wrongful death claim
To bring a wrongful death claim in Nevada, the plaintiff must be a personal representative or legal heir of the person who has died. NRS 41.085. For purposes of wrongful death suits, a person’s heirs are identified by the state’s rules for people who die intestate—that is, without valid wills. On the one hand, this means that the potential list of heirs can be long. In cases where the deceased didn’t have immediate heirs (a spouse or surviving children, for example) the rules of intestacy can draw in people who at first seem far removed, like nieces and nephews or even distant cousins.
On the other hand, someone who doesn’t qualify has an heir might not be able to bring a wrongful death suit. For example, a life-long partner of the deceased who was not joined to them by marriage or civil union could lack standing to bring a wrongful death claim. A fiancée would fall into this category as well. Note that it isn’t enough that the deceased person named someone as an heir in their will, because the statute’s definition of “heir” ignores the will.
The “personal representative” of a deceased person is typically his or her estate lawyer, trustee, or executor. People in these roles are primarily focused on settling the person’s estate, which involves paying off debts ahead of distributing the remaining property to heirs. The statute allows such individuals to bring wrongful death suits to ensure that the responsible party pays the debts associated with the cause of death.
Damages available in wrongful death claims
The Nevada wrongful death statute allows plaintiffs to seek compensation for a wide range of damages. It draws a distinction between heirs and personal representatives for the types of damages that are available. Heirs can pursue monetary awards for:
- The plaintiff’s grief.
- Loss of support (for example, if the deceased was the primary earner in a household).
- Loss of companionship.
- Loss of comfort and consortium (in ordinary terms, the loss of one’s sexual partner).
- Pain, suffering, or disfigurement of the deceased.
Personal representatives can pursue damages for things like funeral expenses and medical bills. A personal representative can also seek punitive or exemplary damages. The statute earmarks any damages recovered by a personal representative for the debts of the deceased person’s estate. NRS 41.085(5).
At GGRM we take wrongful death personally
For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has been committed to giving our clients the personal, caring attention they deserve. We set ourselves apart through our compassionate approach to every case. If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit in connection with the death of a loved one, our attorneys are here to help you sort through your options. For a free attorney consultation, reach out to us today at 702-388-4476, or contact us through our website.