Every state, including New Jersey, permits the heirs of a person killed by negligence or a wrongful act to recover compensation through the filing of a civil lawsuit. Historically, only an injured person could bring a claim for damages. However, state legislators enacted wrongful death statutes in order to compensate close family members for the financial hardships that accompany the devastating loss of a family member.
Pursuant to New Jersey’s wrongful death statute, heirs can recover lost financial support, funeral expenses, and damages for the pain and suffering the decedent endured prior to death.
Proving Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case
A plaintiff must prove the following four elements in a wrongful death lawsuit:
In order to establish that a person is liable for the wrongful death of your loved one, you must first prove that they owed the decedent a duty of care. This means that the defendant had a duty to keep the decedent safe or refrain from harming them. For example, if the decedent was killed while riding as a passenger in the plaintiff’s car, the plaintiff-driver should have been driving with a reasonable degree of caution.
Next, you must establish that the plaintiff breached the duty owed to the decedent. Returning to the previous example, a driver might breach the duty owed to their passenger by getting behind the wheel while intoxicated. A reasonable person would not drive drunk; therefore, by doing so, the driver breached the duty owed to the decedent-passenger.
Next, a plaintiff must prove that the breach caused the decedent’s death. Referring back to our example, the plaintiff must prove that the drunk driving car accident was the cause of death. If the decedent had suffered a fatal heart attack mere moments before the accident, an heir will not be able to recover for wrongful death.
Damages are presumed in a wrongful death case, because the person was killed. In cases where the victim is not fatally injured, they must have suffered some real harm that can be demonstrated in court.