Filing a Wrongful Death Claim: 7 Steps


Losing a loved one due to another party’s negligent actions is devastating. You might be so distraught that you’re unsure how to proceed. Beyond dealing with your loss internally, there are likely two needs you’re looking to satisfy: getting justice and seeking financial compensation. You can accomplish both by pursuing a wrongful death claim.

Holding the other party accountable for their actions will help you get closure. Additionally, a wrongful death claim can allow you to recoup the income or services your loved one contributed to your household that you’re now forced to live without.

How Wrongful Death Claims Work in Ohio

Typically, when a person dies, their ability to take legal action dies with them. However, according to Ohio law, there is an exception when the death occurs due to a “wrongful act, neglect, or default” that would have made the person eligible for damages had they survived.

In those instances, family members of the deceased, such as spouses, children, and parents, can file a wrongful death claim to receive compensation for their loved one’s death. Steps you should take to prepare for your wrongful death claim include the following:

1. Determining Eligibility to File a Claim

In some states, the family files a wrongful death case. In Ohio, the deceased’s personal representative files. The probate court handling the estate will appoint someone to this role.

If the deceased left a will, the personal representative will be named as the executor. If the deceased person did not leave a will, the court will typically appoint a close relative to act as the personal representative. In either case, the personal representative will work with an Ohio wrongful death attorney to prepare and file the claim.

2. Gathering Essential Documentation and Evidence

You and your attorney must prove the other party’s liability using evidence that shows they committed negligent or wrongful acts that led to the death. The evidence and documents you need may include the following:

  • Medical records
  • Police reports
  • Photos and videos of the injuries and the accident scene
  • Witness testimony

You also need evidence, such as financial records, to prove your losses.

3. Finding a Wrongful Death Attorney

Not all injury lawyers handle wrongful death cases. You should look for a lawyer who has experience and a track record of success. You will interview lawyers using free consultations. During your meetings, ask each lawyer about their experience and ensure you understand what they charge.

4. Identifying Responsible Parties

In most cases, you’ll know who caused your loved one’s fatal injuries. Sometimes, though, you and the lawyer must investigate the death to determine whose actions contributed to their death.

For example, suppose that your loved one died in a car crash. You could determine that the driver who hit them was texting before the collision. You might also find that the airbag malfunctioned and showered your relative with shrapnel, causing severe bleeding. You would probably sue both parties who contributed to the death.

5. Initiating the Claims Process With the Court

Most wrongful death cases start with insurance claims. In many situations, the insurer will settle. If the insurer refuses to do so, however, your lawyer will file a lawsuit to continue your claim.

6. Evaluating Damages and Losses

You must know your losses for two reasons. First, it’s important that you present evidence of your losses in court so the judge or jury knows how much to award. Second, your losses will tell you when the other party has made a fair settlement offer.

7. Pursuing Justice and Compensation for Your Losses

Most cases never reach trial. If your case does not settle, the lawyer will present your evidence to a jury and advocate for a fair and just damage award.

Frequently Asked Questions About Wrongful Death Claims

Here are some answers to questions people often ask about wrongful death cases in Ohio:

What Are Examples of Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death happens when someone suffers a fatal injury or condition due to another’s culpable actions. Examples of wrongful death include:

  • Cancer from exposure to mismarked toxic chemicals
  • Fatal injuries from a car crash caused by a distracted driver
  • Cardiac arrest due to an anesthesiologist’s error during surgery

A wrongful death does not need to constitute a crime. Negligence will be enough to prove wrongful death even when the actions do not break any criminal laws.

What Are “General Damages” for Wrongful Death?

Damages fall into two categories. Special damages are unique to the case, such as medical bills and income losses. General damages happen in all instances when someone dies. In Ohio, these losses include loss of companionship and mental anguish suffered by the surviving relatives.

What Is the Burden of Proof for Wrongful Death?

The Ohio Revised Code requires the party bringing the wrongful death case to prove the death resulted from a “wrongful act, neglect, or default.” The elements that you must prove will depend on the type of case. Examples of legal standards and the cases they encompass include the following:

  • Intent is required for deliberate assaults and abuse
  • Negligence is required for car accidents and hazardous premises accidents
  • Strict liability applies to dog bites and defective products

Your Ohio wrongful death lawyer must prove liability by a preponderance of the evidence. The insurer or jury must be persuaded that it’s more likely than not that the other party caused the death.

This standard is much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal law. As such, you can often pursue a wrongful death claim even when prosecutors refuse to bring criminal charges.

Talk to Our Wrongful Death Attorneys to Learn More

Losing a loved one to someone else’s actions is beyond difficult. A wrongful death case can help you secure justice and compensation for your loss. Contact us to discuss your loved one’s fatal injuries and how we can help you hold the other party accountable.

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If you have been injured or have lost a loved one as a result of another person's negligence, you deserve to be fully compensated for your losses. The simple fact is that you should not be forced to pay the price for another person's careless or reckless actions.