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The difference between wrongful death claims and survival actions

An unexpected death is always tragic -- but it's even worse when the death could have been prevented.

Those deaths often occur through things like truck accidents, injuries on construction sites and surgical mistakes. When the victims of these devastating events don't live long enough to bring their own personal injury claims to court, their survivors can take action. They sometimes file two different type of lawsuits related to a victim's death: a wrongful death claim and a survival action.

What are the differences between the two? How do they relate to one another? This is what you should know:

Wrongful death claims are about the survivor's losses

Whether a death was caused by simple negligence or someone's willful actions, like in a shooting, claims revolve heavily around the lost income potential of the victim. It's easier to understand if you remember that wrongful death claims were originally designed to benefit widows and orphans when the family's breadwinner was killed.

Wrongful death claims often also include funeral expenses and punitive damages. Punitive damages aren't tied directly to economic losses. Instead, they're designed to punish the defendant for particularly awful actions -- like the purposeful disregard for the victim's safety in the name of corporate profits.

In Kentucky, wrongful death claims are somewhat unique because they have to be brought by a personal representative of the deceased's estate instead of directly by surviving family members -- although there are additional claims that can be brought by surviving spouses and young children over the lost companionship and guidance caused by the victim's death.

Survival actions are about the victim's final hours and days

Often, the victim of a wrongful death doesn't die immediately from his or her injuries.

Whether the victim survived the initial injury for a matter of minutes or several years, there is an element of suffering. Significant medical bills can also pile up in the time between the actual negligent incident and the victim's death.

Survival actions are also begun by the deceased's estate -- but they ask the court to compensate the victim for his or her pain and suffering (and other damages, like lost wages) from the moment of injury to the moment of death.

Because these claims are closely related but focused differently, they're incredibly complex -- which makes it wise to get good advice before you proceed.

Source: FindLaw, "What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?," accessed June 01, 2018

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