A wrongful death death occurs when someone dies due to the wrongful act of another. But what, exactly does “wrongful” mean? Well, it means the same thing that it would mean in a personal injury lawsuit — an intentional, reckless or negligent act . A drunken driver, for example, would be liable for wrongful death if his intoxication caused an accident that killed someone else. A defendant does not have to commit a crime, however, to be held liable for wrongful death.
Who Can File a Claim?
In Kentucky, a wrongful death claim must be filed by the personal representative (executor) of the victim’s probate estate. Although it is the probate court that appoints the personal representative, the court will generally appoint the person named in the victim’s last will and testament, if he left one.
Basis of Damages
The following amounts can be recovered in a Kentucky wrongful death claim:
- Compensation for funeral and burial expenses;
- Legal expenses for bringing the wrongful death lawsuit (if the claim is not settled out of court);
- Loss of care, companionship and guidance by surviving relatives;
- Loss of the victim’s financial support by surviving relatives; and
- Punitive damages (awarded in a minority of cases in which the death was caused by particularly outrageous behavior, such as an intentional criminal act).
- In Kentucky there is no formal legal limit on how much money can be recovered.
Who Actually Receives Damages?
Damages for a wrongful death claim are distributed as follows:
- Compensation for the first three items above (funeral and burial expenses as well as expenses for brining a wrongful death lawsuit) are paid to the victim’s probate estate, if the estate paid these amounts in the first place.
- If there is a surviving spouse but no surviving children, the spouse gets all of the rest of the damages.
- If there is a surviving spouse and surviving children, the spouse and the children each get 50 percent of the amount not paid to the probate estate. If there is more than one surviving child, each child receives damages in equal proportion.
- Other rules apply under various scenarios (the victim is a child, for example, or the victim has children but no spouse).
Beware the Statute of Limitations
In Kentucky, the general deadline for filing a wrongful death lawsuit is only one year after the victim dies. This is one of the shortest statute of limitations periods in the nation. Certain narrow exceptions apply — if the wrongful nature of the victim’s death did not become reasonably apparent until later, for example. In any case, the filing of a lawsuit cannot be delayed longer than five years after the victim’s death.
Act Quickly — the Clock is Ticking
Kentucky’s draconian statute of limitations makes it all that much more important that you act quickly if you suspect that your loved one’s death was caused by someone else’s misconduct. Schedule an appointment with Kentucky wrongful death attorney Glenn Martin Hammond today so that we can explore your options — call 606-437-7777 or complete our online contact form.