Serious personal injuries frequently cause the death of the victim. Death may be immediate, or it may come only after a lengthy period of suffering. In either case, the law doesn’t let the person responsible for the injuries and death off the hook simply because the victim is dead. While deceased victims can’t personally make claims for compensation, their family, heirs and estate may be able to under the concept of “wrongful death.”’
Wrongful Death and Survival Actions in Maine
The legal concepts involved in obtaining compensation from someone who caused the death can be technical and, often, more complicated than they should or need to be. Historically, the law distinguished between wrongful death claims, which were to compensate the deceased’s family for the damage done to their interests, and survival actions, which were to by the estate of the deceased to collect compensation that the deceased would have been able to collect had he not died.
In Maine, there is a very specific statute that allows wrongful death claims and specifies who is entitled to the compensation recovered. The Maine wrongful death statute has blurred the distinction between wrongful death and survival claims; an attorney experienced in the subtleties of the law, and attuned to the different interests involved, is invaluable in navigating the technicalities of these claims.
Losses that Can Be Compensated in Wrongful Death Actions
There are three kinds of losses that can be recovered under the wrongful death statute:
- Economic losses (pecuniary losses), like expenses incurred for medical care and funerals, income that will be lost, and the like.
- Non-economic (non-pecuniary), which covers emotional, psychological and similar damage.
- Punitive, which, as the name implies, is intended to punish the people who caused the death when their behavior is deemed to be so egregious that it amounts to intentional action or malice.
The distinction is important under Maine law because there is no limit on the pecuniary damages that can be recovered. Both non-pecuniary and punitive damages, however are limited to specific amounts ($500,000 for non-pecuniary and $250,000 for punitive).
Determining Amount of Lost Support
While determining the amount of expenses caused by the decedent’s injury and death is usually just a matter of tracking bills and proving payment, claims for loss of support can be very difficult. Obviously, the amount of lost support depends on how much the decedent would have been expected to contribute to the household over the remainder of his working life. That amount will differ depending on:
- The decedent’s occupation and work history
- The decedents age at the time of death
- How many dependents the decedent leaves, which depends on whether there is a spouse, whether that spouse works, whether there are dependent children, etc.
Proving the claim is often the most difficult and time consuming part of a wrongful death action, involving vocational experts and economic formulas.
Who Receives the Compensation?
Maine’s statute is very specific on which people are eligible to receive the damages recovered in a wrongful death action: surviving spouses, minor children and people who would be heirs under the state’s intestacy laws. It also sets priorities:
- When there are both a spouse and minor children, half of the recovery goes to the spouse; the children evenly divide the other half.
- If there is only a spouse, the spouse receives all the compensation.
- If there are only minor children, they receive all the compensation.
- If there is neither a spouse nor surviving children, the recovery goes to the heirs under the intestacy law, based on the degree of kinship, with the decedent’s parents being first in line.
Legal Representation in Maine Wrongful Death Actions
Before getting to questions about damages and how to distribute them, you have to legally prove that the defendant caused the death. Was the initial incident a motor vehicle crash? A fall down the stairs? A collapsing floor in a building? The kinds of issues that come up vary from accident to accident. The type of proof required to establish fault may be very different in a vehicle accident case and a collapsing floor case.
At the Jabar Injury Law firm, we have the range of experience that comes from more than 35 years of handling personal injury cases efficiently and successfully. We are known and respected in the legal community and the world of experts. Give us a call now for a free consultation.