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Wrongful Death Cases in the Greater Springfield, Mass., Region (Western Massachusetts)
Presented by Attorney Robert W. Shute, Personal Injury Lawyer
Normally we tend to think of a personal injury case as a way to financially compensate someone who has been harmed directly by someone else’s negligence. In the case of a person who dies because of someone else’s negligence or carelessness, there are often family members who also are harmed by the loss. A surviving husband or wife and children may have relied on income from their now deceased spouse and parent. The family also suffers the loss of companionship, care and guidance. In this situation, Massachusetts has a “wrongful death” law that allows the surviving family members to be monetarily compensated for their loss.
Nothing can replace the loss of a person who is dear and important to us, but a wrongful death case can afford at least a sense that justice has been served as well as satisfying the practical outcome of providing payment to the survivors who need and deserve it. The compensation can take the form of economic and non-economic damages, “economic” ones being the loss of present and future income from the deceased as well as medical costs, and “non-economic” damages cover the emotional impact – the trauma and the loss of love and companionship – of the death. A court’s calculations of the actual damages to be awarded is based on a complex set of formulas with variables such as funeral costs, the projected remaining worklife of the deceased until retirement, and the person’s current salary or annual profits.
The types of negligent behavior or misconduct that can give rise to a wrongful death claim cover a lot of ground. Many of the injuries described in the other pages of this site – such as workplace accidents or slip and fall injuries – can be the basis for a wrongful death lawsuit, for example. Any recklessness or carelessness behind the wheel that results in fatality can lead to such suits, whether the person at fault was driving another vehicle or the one the deceased was riding in. When pedestrians are killed, that often leads to wrongful death cases as well. Hunting accidents, sports injuries, even crimes (such as manslaughter or murder), are all potential sources for these suits.
In some situations a plaintiff can press a wrongful death suit, which is a civil matter, in lieu of criminal proceedings if those are denied or even if the outcome to a criminal case has been unsatisfactory to the claimant. The best-known instance of this occurring is the O.J. Simpson case, in which the former athlete was acquitted for a double murder in a highly publicized criminal case but found guilty of wrongful death charges by a jury in civil court.
Part of the reason that a wrongful death civil suit can serve to provide moral redress when criminal charges either don’t stick or can’t be proven is that there are significant differences between the two types of cases and legal processes. For one thing, the burden of proof differs markedly. The standard of proof in criminal trials is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” whereas for civil cases “clear and convincing evidence” is required. This is hardly a trifling semantical distinction, but rather a very substantive difference. Also, in civil cases a defendant cannot “take the fifth” to avoid self-incrimination, and any refusal to answer a question can be taken into consideration by a jury during its deliberations.
Every state has a statute of limitations for wrongful death cases, and in Massachusetts that term is three years. So it’s essential to start the process if you believe you have a case, and as a rule sooner is better when evidence is easily accessed and witnesses’ memories are fresh. The first step with such a complex matter as a wrongful death suit is to consult with a trained, experienced lawyer who has expertise with such type of cases. Here at the Law Office of Robert W. Shute, I have over 25 years of experience handling personal injury suits in Western Massachusetts, including many wrongful death cases.
My law office is located conveniently in downtown Chicopee, Mass. (in the greater Springfield area). Contact us, via this site or at (413) 592-0999, to set up a free, no-obligation evaluation in which we can look over the facts of your case, discuss the likelihood of success, and decide whether or not to proceed further.