Losing a loved-one is the worst loss a person can face. But the circumstances surrounding the death can really shape how bad it hits you. Death from natural causes, late in one’s life, does not hurt as bad as when death is delivered by the wrongful acts of another person.
In Oklahoma, a lawsuit can be brought against the person who caused a death through wrongful acts. We will explain how this area of law works in Oklahoma.
What is a wrongful death lawsuit?
The term “wrongful death” is a phrase used by lawyers and judges in court to refer to a death that was caused by a wrongful act of another person or company. A simple way of looking at it is like this: you have a right to sue the person who killed your parent or child.
For example, if your mother dies from natural causes while in a nursing home, her death was natural and not “wrongful” under the law. However, if your mother dies because the nursing home did not clean and treat her bedsores and allowed her to become infected, and she dies from sepsis, then her death may have been wrongful if you can prove the nursing home indeed neglected her.
In Oklahoma, wrongful death actions can be applied to any circumstance where a defendant’s bad conduct caused the death, including in motor-vehicle accidents (driver was at-fault, caused the collision which killed the other driver); semi-truck accidents; medical malpractice (doctor broke the rules of the medical profession which caused patient to die); and even civil rights cases (officer shoots a suspect who is not threatening).
Who can bring a Wrongful Death lawsuit in Oklahoma?
The wrongful death lawsuit must be brought by the personal representative of the deceased’s estate. The court, usually in a probate action, will appoint one or more person’s as the personal representative(s). However, just because the personal representative brings the suit does not entitle them to the damages recovered. The proceeds recovered by the suit, whether by judgment or settlement, are distributed according to State law and depend on the type of damages recovered.
How long do you have to file suit?
In Oklahoma, you have two (2) years from the date of the death to file suit.
What type of damages are recoverable in a wrongful death suit in Oklahoma?
Oklahoma’s wrongful death statute, Okla. Statutes, Title 12, Section 1053, provides that the personal representative of the decedent may seek the following damages:
- Medical and Burial Expenses
- Loss of consortium and grief of the surviving spouse
- Mental pain and anguish suffered by the decedent
- Financial loss to the surviving spouse and children
- Grief and loss of companionship to the children and parents
- Punitive damages
How is the money from the lawsuit distributed to the family and survivors?
Oklahoma’s wrongful death statute prescribes exactly how the damages recovered are to be distributed. Below is a summary:
Damages for medical expenses and burial expenses. Money recovered for these damages are distributed to the person or entity that originally paid for these expenses. If the decedent’s estate paid them, then the money goes to the estate.
Damages for loss of consortium and grief of the surviving spouse. Loss of consortium represents the spouse’s loss of companionship with the decedent. A spouse’s right to recover for loss of consortium is a historically protected common law right. A centrally recognized value of marriage is lifetime of love and companionship, and Oklahoma common law allows a spouse to recover financial award for the loss of that relationship. Any money recovered for this loss is distributed to the spouse.
Mental pain and anguish suffered by the decedent. These damages are distributed to the surviving spouse and children.
Financial loss to the surviving spouse and children. The personal representatives who bring the suit can offer evidence of the decedent’s age, occupation, earning capacity, health habits, and probable life expectancy, among other evidence, to show how much future money the surviving spouse and children have lost because of the decedent’s early death. Money that is recovered for this purpose will be distributed to the spouse and each child.
Grief and loss of companionship to the children and parents. Unlike in personal injury lawsuits, where children and parents do not get damages for grief (only spouses get loss of consortium in injury suits), the parents and children do get these damages in death cases. The money is distributed to the children and parents according to each loss suffered.
Punitive damages. Punitive or exemplary damages are additional damages that are awared for the purpose of punishing the person who caused the death. The damages are only awarded if certain criteria are met, as explained here. If punitive damages are recovered, they are distributed to the surviving spouse and children in the same proportion as personal property of the estate.
What if no surviving spouse or children?
The personal representative can still bring suit. The damages are then distributed to the decedent’s next of kin.
Can a parent sue for the wrongful death of an unborn child?
Yes. Oklahoma’s wrongful death statute explicitly provides an action for the death of an unborn child, if the death was caused by the wrongful acts or omissions of another person. The same rules apply as above.
Take action now! Call (405) 701-6016 for Free Consultation with Oklahoma City Attorney about your case.
If you have questions about bringing suit over the death of someone in your family, I encourage you to call me at (405) 701-6016. Feel free to email me and come in for a free consultation. I am happy to answer any questions you may have. I understand this is a difficult process and am available to provide as much information as you need.