Wrongful death laws fall under tort law or personal injury law. The laws are intended to compensate for harm to a person resulting in death. The laws provide legal rights and protections to the surviving beneficiaries and descendants of persons who have died as a result of another person’s negligence, intentional tort, or strict liability. The compensatory damages include medical expenses, loss of income or earning potential and psychological pain and suffering. If the death of a person is due to gross negligence, the beneficiaries can seek punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded under wrongful death law to punish the offender and deter others from similar conduct. Some of the major types of wrongful death law cases are slip and fall (premises) injury, car or other vehicle accidents, nursing home abuse, medical malpractice, work related injury, defective drug injury, exposure to toxic materials, and defective product injuries.
Chapter 171 of Title 28 USCS governs tort claims against the United States. Some federal laws provide immunity from wrongful death claims to defendants in railroad collisions and certain product liability cases including medical devices. Every state has their own wrongful death law or set of laws which governs these civil personal injury cases. The states in the United States have each passed wrongful death statutes unique to their own jurisdictions. Wrongful death statutes vary from state to state, but in general they define who may sue for wrongful death and what, if any, limits may be applied to an award of damages. The state laws also indicate the time in which a claimant can legally file a wrongful death lawsuit. This wrongful death law provision is known as the statute of limitations and can vary on the basis of jurisdiction and case specifics.