What Happens If There's More Than One Defendant In A Wrongful Death Claim?

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What happens when more than one party is responsible for a someone's accidental death? A wrongful death claim can become very complicated when there is potentially more than one defendant involved. If your loved one was killed in an accident and more than one party was responsible, learn more about how these cases work.

When do you have more than one defendant in a case?

There are times when it is just woefully apparent that there were several different people who had a responsibility toward the victim—and they all failed to exercise the ordinary degree of caution that would be expected under the circumstances. Each party's negligence combines into an overall fatal error.

For example, in a case involving a young woman who was killed while working in the dark on a highway project, attorneys filed their claim jointly against the driver who struck her, the contractor that directly hired her, and the California Department of Transportation, which was responsible for overseeing the project. The driver failed to exercise reasonable caution on the road by driving while intoxicated, the company that hired the victim failed to properly train her in safety measures or erect safety barriers, and the supervisor for the Department of Transportation saw her working in the dark and didn't stop her.

It's always important to try to hold all the possible parties responsible for a death accountable when you file your claim. If you fail to list all of the parties involved when you file your initial lawsuit, you may either have to file another lawsuit—which can be unnecessarily expensive—or you may be barred from filing against them at all, depending on the situation.

How does the law determine who is responsible for paying the judgment?

If you win your case, the first thing that the jury or judge has to determine is how much should be awarded for the loss of your loved one. The court will use things like the victim's age, education, future earning potential, medical bills, funeral costs, and any pain and suffering he or she endured before dying to calculate the amount owed. In some cases, you may also be awarded punitive damages, which are designed to punish the people responsible for your loved one's death rather than reimburse you for your losses.

The court will then determine how to divide the responsibility for the accident among the defendants. Each defendant will be assigned a percentage that represents his or her share of the blame. Once that has been done, the laws of your state will determine how the judgment can be collected—in some states, defendants are only responsible for their own portion of the debt while others hold all the defendants equally responsible. Some states use a mix of the two rules.

While wrongful death claims involving more than one defendant are complex, they're often necessary in order to get the best possible outcome. For more information about a specific claim, contact a wrongful death attorney like Bangel, Bangel, & Bangel in your area.