What Is The Difference Between Personal Injury And Wrongful Death

At Decof, Decof & Barry we represent individuals and families pursuing personal injury claims. A personal injury claim refers to a broad class of claims for damages due to the fault of another. A wrongful death claim is a subcategory of personal injury claims in which death results. A wrongful death claim is brought by an estate and/or a family member for damages caused by the untimely death of another family member. Wrongful death claims are governed by a specific state statute, such as Rhode Island General Laws, § 10-7-1, whereas personal injury claims arise from the common law or judge-made law.

Both personal injury and wrongful death claims start at the same point: a person is injured through the tortious actions of another. Negligence, malpractice and product liability claims are all examples of the type of tortious actions that can result in personal injury or death. The proof of negligence, malpractice or a defective product is usually the same regardless of whether the action results in death or a survivable injury. For example, assume a car accident with multiple people injured, one occupant suffering paralysis while another occupant suffers immediate death.  Proving that the accident resulted from negligence – i.e. the driver was reckless for speeding or drove the wrong way – would be the same in a personal injury claim arising out of the paralysis or wrongful death claim for the occupant who died.

The separation between a personal injury claim and a wrongful death claim begins with understanding what harm the negligence, malpractice, or product defect caused and who can recover for that harm.  In a personal injury claim, the focus is on the injured individual and the effect of the injury on his or her life.  In most personal injury claims, the injured party brings a claim for his or her pain and suffering, to recover medical expenses, and lost wages.  If the injured party has a spouse or minor children, those family members may recover for the changes in their relationship with the injured party (known as a loss of consortium or loss of society claim).

In contrast, in wrongful death claims, the focus is on compensating the family members for the loss of their loved one.  Typically a state statute, such as the Rhode Island General Laws § 10-7-1, establishes that an estate and/or a specific group of family members are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim. This statute also establishes the type of compensation recoverable and who is entitled to recover.  The compensation to the family members includes the financial losses such as past and future earnings, contribution to household services, etc. that the loved one provided to the family and the emotional loss to the family members due to the death of a loved one.  In addition, wrongful death statutes permit the decedent’s estate to recover for the deceased pain and suffering (physical and mental anguish) from the date of the injury until their death.

You can learn more about personal injury and wrongful death claims on our website. The attorneys at Decof, Decof & Barry have the experience and knowledge to advise you on the potential claims and damages available to you and your family when someone dies or suffers a serious injury.

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