In Oregon, wrongful death is defined as “death caused by the wrongful act or omission of another”, and are typically caused by a negligent, reckless or intentional act. Wrongful death includes the same sort of actions that would support a personal injury claim if the deceased person had lived. The main difference between a wrongful death claim and a personal injury claim is that the injured person is no longer able to bring his or her own claim to court.
Another party must bring the lawsuit to court and it is usually a family member. Most often, the case is filed by a surviving spouse, child, or parent of the deceased person. Other family members that are allowed to bring a wrongful death claim to court in Oregon include grandparents, stepchildren and stepparents.
A wrongful death claim is a civil suit, not a criminal case, because it must be filed directly by a family member and liability is expressed solely in terms of monetary damages. A criminal case is filed by the prosecuting attorney employed by the jurisdiction where the death occurred, and is penalized by imprisonment, probation, and other penalties.
Damages in a wrongful death case are proposed to compensate the estate and surviving family members for losses and hardships due to the deceased person’s death. Compensation includes:
- Burial and funeral expenses
- Medical and hospital expenses related to the deceased person’s final injury or illness
- Lost wages and benefits, including the value of compensation the deceased person would reasonably have earned in the future if he or she had continued to live
- Pain and suffering the deceased endured just prior to death
- Loss of care, companionship, comfort, and guidance suffered by the surviving family members as a result of the untimely loss of a family member
Punitive damages may be awarded in cases involving extreme negligence or intentional behavior. Punitive damages are intended to punish bad behavior and send a message that extremely negligent or intentional wrongdoing is not tolerated by society.
Oregon has a statute of limitations that a wrongful death claim must be filed within 3 years of the date of the deceased person’s final injury.