Free Online Legal Resources
A person or entity generally may be held liable for damages when a person is killed due to negligence. However, this may not necessarily be the case when a state or federal government agency or its employees are involved in causing someone's death. It's important to consider who can sue the state and when the law may allow for responsible parties to be held liable for their actions.
In California, many different parties may be entitled to file a wrongful death case. Such parties include a deceased person's spouse, partner or children. Those who were not married to an individual but believed that they were at the time of a person's death may be granted standing to file a lawsuit. New York and Illinois law are generally the same in regards to who can file a wrongful death suit. In some cases, any adopted child or other dependents may be allowed to file a suit even if they aren't biologically related to the deceased party.
In a wrongful death case, there may be many types of damages that a family member can seek. For instance, it may be possible to seek final expenses such as the cost of a funeral or the cost of settling an estate. In Illinois, survival motions may be undertaken within two years of a loved one's death.
California and New York also allow for survival actions, which generally have the same statutes of limitations as wrongful death cases. The difference between a survival action and a wrongful death case is that the survival action seeks damages that would have been available if the deceased person had lived. This may include medical bills, lost wages and lost future earnings.
In New York, a family member has two years from the time of a person's death to file a lawsuit. In the state of California, an individual has six months to notify a government agency that it is pursuing a claim against it. If the family member doesn't hear back within 45 days, they generally have two years from the time the death occurs to file a claim. However, if the government does respond, a family may have only six months to respond to denial. In the state of Illinois, a family member has anywhere from two to five years after the death to file a claim depending on the circumstances in the case.
The Federal Tort Claims Act imposes limitations as to the conditions under which a wrongful death claim may be made against a federal employee. To file a valid claim, an individual must have been acting in an official capacity at the time that a wrongful death occurred. Furthermore, that person must have been acting in a negligent manner at the time at which the death occurred. Negligence may include any action that an individual knew or should have known would cause injury or death to another person.
An act by a government official must also be shown to be the proximate cause of that death. In legal terms, the "proximate cause" refers to the primary cause of the death. In other words, it wouldn't be possible to hold a federal employee negligent for a person's death if an underlying health condition or some other event actually caused the demise. If a family member is filing a claim under the FTCA, that person will likely need evidence showing that all conditions are met prior to the case proceeding.
When acting within the scope of their duties, government agencies and employees generally enjoy what is referred to as qualified immunity. What this means is that they cannot be held liable for anything that may happen to another person as long as they were acting in their official capacity. However, this assumes that the actions taken by an agency or agency employee were both legal and within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.
Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things that a person will go through in their lifetime. While filing a wrongful death suit won't bring that family member back, it may help ease some of the financial burden left in its wake. It might also hold the government entity that caused the death responsible for its actions, which may prevent another tragedy from happening in the future. Wrongful death attorneys may be willing to consult anyone who wants to learn more about whether or not they can sue the state, and this could provide a favorable start to families on their legal journey.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified wrongful death lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local wrongful death attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.