Michigan, like other states, has a specific set of laws that govern wrongful death claims within its jurisdiction.
What is a Wrongful Death in Michigan?
A wrongful death, according to the law set forth in Michigan, refers to a death that has been caused by the legal fault (negligence or wrongful act) of someone else or another entity – that would have resulted in the filing of a personal injury lawsuit – had the decedent lived. (MCL§§ 600.2922 – Michigan Wrongful Death Act)
In addition, under Michigan law, a pregnant woman who suffers a miscarriage (or stillbirth) due to a negligent or wrongful act would be eligible for a wrongful death claim as well. (MCL§§ 600.2922a)
Examples of wrongful death include the following –
- An incident that occurred due to another’s negligence, i.e., an automobile accident, DUI, etc.).
- An act deemed intentional. This would also include a crime.
- Medical Malpractice, among others.
In a successful wrongful death civil lawsuit, the court determines the financial compensation (known as damages) that the defendant must pay to the decedent’s estate. A wrongful death lawsuit differs from a criminal homicide lawsuit because, in the latter, a conviction can result in imprisonment, probation, fines to the state jurisdiction, or other relevant penalties, which would not occur with a civil wrongful death lawsuit.
Another difference between criminally prosecuting a homicide case and that of wrongful death civil lawsuit is the fact that a wrongful death plaintiff must establish a defendant’s liability for the death by a preponderance of the evidence. In clear English, this means that ‘it is more likely than not, that the defendant is culpable for the death. Conversely, a criminal homicide case requires the government agency to demonstrate the defendant’s liability beyond a reasonable doubt – a much higher bar to meet to be successful.
Note: However, It is possible for one and the same incident to end up with a defendant being sued criminally and civilly for the same death. Up next, who can file a wrongful death claim in Michigan?
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Michigan
Some states allow for a decedent’s surviving family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit; however, Michigan law requires that the deceased individual’s personal representative (often known as the executor) file the lawsuit. After the decedent’s personal representative files, a wrongful death lawsuit, they are given 30 days to appropriately notify those family members who may be entitled to damages. (Damages are discussed in detail below)
If the Decedent Left a Will
Any individual who is named as an heir may have a right to file a wrongful death lawsuit but often needs the professional guidance of a Michigan wrongful death lawyer.
However, prior to a wrongful death claim, a family member (or heir to the estate) must first be appointed as the decedent’s estate’s personal representative. This is usually done by the collective family, who agrees which person they want to act as a personal representative – the person who works with an attorney and represents the family members’ interests.
Although state law permits the decedent’s family to recover damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, Michigan law restricts those who may be eligible to receive damages to these individuals related to the deceased person:
- Someone bequeathed property in the deceased person’s will.
If none of these people are available for this case, then anyone else who may be eligible to inherit from the deceased person’s estate may collect wrongful death damages.
Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Michigan
The first step in the process to file a wrongful death claim is to consult with an experienced Michigan wrongful death attorney to determine, under Michigan law, if there is a basis for a wrongful death lawsuit. An experienced Michigan attorney has the skill to help you understand your legal standing and rights in Michigan.
The lawsuit is known as the complaint. It is the document that is filed with the court. It details the legal basis of the wrongful death claim. The litigation process begins when the filed complaint is served by a process server on the named defendants.
Potential Damages from a Michigan Wrongful Death Case
When a loved one or family member passes, the incident takes a tremendous emotional toll on surviving family members. This is further aggravated by an unexpected and swift financial hardship.
If successful, the damages (which are also known as the plaintiff’s claimed losses) that the decedent’s estate receives by a wrongful death lawsuit compensate the surviving family members for the wrongful death. In Michigan, a wrongful death lawsuit can award these types of damages to eligible survivors –
- Reasonable hospital and medical costs expenses for the decedent prior to their death.
- Funeral and burial expenses.
- The pain and suffering that may have been endured by the decedent prior to their death.
- The loss of one’s financial assistance that the decedent would have contributed had they not died.
- The loss of companionship with the decedent as well as other intangible benefits.
It is noted that Michigan law has no universal cap with regard to damages awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit. However, Michigan does place limits on potential medical malpractice damages that apply if the wrongful death was the result of a medical error or negligence.
Michigan’s limit for medical malpractice was established in 1993. The limit only applies to non-economic damages. The default cap was initially $280,000 but has been adjusted for inflation since.
- The limits or caps for Michigan medical malpractice damages are adjusted each year in relation to the movement of the previous year’s CPI (Consumer Price Index).
- For 2021, the standard limit regarding non-economic damages in the majority of malpractice lawsuits is $476,600.
- For 2021, the limit for malpractice lawsuits involving permanent injuries is $851,000.
Remember that Michigan state law sets forth no other limits on the other damages that may be available to someone filing a medical malpractice lawsuit as the plaintiff. These other categories of damages may include, in part:
- Economic Damages – including the compensation for:
* Past medical expenses
* Ongoing medical expenses that are required as a result of the malpractice
- Lost income
- Reduced ability to earn a living
- Other losses to finances that can be measured or quantified.
The Time Given to File a Michigan Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Michigan, like all state jurisdictions, sets forth the amount of time that an eligible personal representative has to file a wrongful death claim.
Michigan, like every other state, has a law on the books that limits the time you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit. The legal concept that defines this time period is known as the Statute of Limitations. For the most part, the relevant statute of limitations law provides three years from the decedent’s death to file a claim of wrongful death. (MCL§ 600.5805) However, for medical malpractice lawsuits, the claim must be filed within two years of the health care event that caused the incident. (MCL§ 600.5805(8))
In addition, MCL § 600.5838a notes that the medical malpractice lawsuit must be filed within six months of the date from the discovery of the patient’s harm (or from when one should have reasonably known if more than two years passed.)
There are other specific scenarios that modify the amount of time to file a Michigan claim. The reality is for most wrongful death cases in Michigan if the lawsuit is not filed within the three-year timeframe, it is likely the claim will be barred from the court system.
As noted above, the estate’s personal representative is responsible for filing the wrongful death claim and notifying other family members who may be involved within 30 days of filing the legal paperwork with the court
Once notified, those family members are given 60 days to inform the estate about the actual damages they have faced because of the victim’s death. If family members fail to notify appropriately within 60 days, their claim to damages from the estate may not be included.
How Long does it Take for a Wrongful Death Claim in Michigan to Conclude?
The length of time one can expect in a wrongful death lawsuit is contingent on several relevant factors. For example, a medical malpractice wrongful death claim may be lengthier to resolve than an automobile accident.
Certain judges permit longer timeframes that allow parties to complete their investigation or take depositions.
Lawsuits that involve someone’s death tend to include issues with greater complexity. This in and of itself may lengthen the time it takes to resolve the lawsuit when compared to a wrongful death lawsuit that may have straightforward, easy-to-identify facts.
For many reasons, the judge will mandate that each side’s representative try to facilitate a mediation or out-of-court settlement. An experienced mediator is tasked with the responsibility of trying to negotiate a mutually agreed-upon settlement between the two parties.
How to Determine the Potential Value of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
Having a curiosity about the value of a wrongful death lawsuit is common and natural. However, it is quite challenging to pinpoint the value of any random case because each brings forth its unique scenario and circumstances.
Note that there are no steadfast written guidelines that are used to determine the compensatory damages of the wrongful death claim. If the lawsuit is or cannot be settled by the parties outside the courtroom, a jury or judge will determine the financial compensation that will be awarded to the plaintiff, if any.
The compensation awarded by a lawsuit to surviving family members of someone who died from a negligent or wrongful act is known as the wrongful death settlement. Compensatory payouts for a wrongful death settlement may include economic as well as non-economic losses. Examples of non-economic losses, which includes the specific damage to each family member of the victim, may include –
- Companionship and comfort from the loss of a loved one.
- Emotional and moral support from the loss of a loved one, to name a few.
They also include compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering from the time of injury through the time of the death. A qualified and skilled wrongful death attorney seeks to maximize the settlement you receive.
Factors that may Impact the Settlement amount of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
As previously noted, there are various and relevant aspects that impact how a court will value a wrongful death lawsuit. Among them –
- What are the circumstances surrounding the event that led to the medical malpractice, injury, or car accident?
- Did the victim die as the result of the incident or the accident?
- Did the victim’s death cause a loss of earnings or income to the family?
- Did the wrongful death generate medical expenses?
- Prior to passing away, did the deceased individual experience pain & suffering?
- How has the loss of the decedent affected the surviving family members?
- Was an insurance policy in place to pay a settlement?
- How much are the insurance policy limits?
The above is only a few of the elements that determine what is considered a fair wrongful death lawsuit settlement in Michigan.
Losing a family member (or a loved one) is both tragic and difficult. This is especially true if the death is unexpected and caused by another’s reckless or malicious actions or choices. If you’ve lost a family member or loved one as the result of medical negligence/malpractice, the intentional action of another person or entity, or an accident, a skilled wrongful death lawyer in Michigan can help pursue a wrongful death claim against those who have a legal liability.
And while the idea of filing a lawsuit after the loss of a loved one is overwhelming, attorneys who specialize in wrongful death lawsuits offer the necessary resources to help you reach your goal.
Remember, there are time constraints associated with the filing of wrongful death claims in Michigan. As such, it is important to speak with a lawyer and file a wrongful death claim as soon as you believe the facts of the case support a lawsuit.