Wrongful Death Cases In Oklahoma: What You Should Know
The unexpected death of a loved one turns your family’s life upside down. When another person’s negligence causes that death, feelings of anger and injustice can intensify your grief. While nothing can bring your loved one back and lessen your sadness, your family may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold those responsible for the death accountable and obtain financial compensation.
This article is your guide to what you should know about wrongful death cases in Oklahoma, offering foundational knowledge that may be helpful before you reach out to a legal professional.
How is “wrongful death” defined in Oklahoma?
PerOklahoma Statute Title 12, § 1053, “when the death of one is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another,” a personal representative of the deceased person may file a civil suit on their behalf.
What would normally be a personal injury lawsuit morphs into a wrongful death suit because the victim of the incident died, and it is up to their personal representative to hold the at-fault party responsible. More specifically, wrongful death includes an incident that was:
- Negligent (such as a DUI, nursing home abuse)
- Intentional (such as assault and battery)
- Medical malpractice (by a doctor or hospital)
A wrongful death lawsuit is an action that is pursued in civil court. If successful, the defendant will pay damages (for both economic and noneconomic losses) to the deceased person’s estate and to the person’s survivors - spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person for thier grief and loss of companionship.
How long do you have to file a wrongful death lawsuit in Oklahoma?
Wrongful death lawsuits have a statute of limitations—a strict deadline to file your claim—in every state. In Oklahoma, a wrongful death case must be filed within two years of the date of the victim’s death. If your case is not filed within this time period, the court will most likely reject it outright and you’ll lose the ability to legally hold the at-fault party financially responsible for your losses.
Keep in mind that wrongful death claims are complex and lengthy to prepare, so two years is not as much time as you might think. It’s important to get help from an experienced attorney to ensure you don’t miss the deadline to file.
See Also: “Common Types of Wrongful Death Claims”
What evidence needs to be collected for a wrongful death case?
To strengthen your case, you will need documentation that reinforces why you are pursuing this legal action and seeking a specific amount in damages. In general, you can expect to provide evidence on the victim’s:
- Health and medical history
- Occupation and earning capacity
- Accident reports (such as police reports, witness statements, etc.)
- Death certificate
- Medical examiner records
- Medical bills
- Burial costs
- Mental pain and anguish suffered before death
You’ll also need evidence of any impact on the survivors (spouse, children, parents, etc.), such as economic and noneconomic damages that result from:
- Loss of companionship or consortium
- Mental pain and anguish
- Financial losses due to the the victim’s earning potential
You’re not in this alone. Your attorney will help you gather the necessary evidence and lead you through the entire process of filing a wrongful death suit.
See Also: “A Wrongful Death in the Family – 3 Steps to Take”
How do you prove negligence in a wrongful death case?
To win a wrongful death suit, your lawyer must prove all of these specific legal elements:
Duty of Care: The defendant owed a duty of care to the victim. For example, drivers owe a duty of safe and responsible driving to others on the road. Medical professionals owe a duty of health to patients.
Breach of Duty: The defendant acted with negligence and breached their duty to the victim. For example, a driver ran a red light or a doctor misdiagnosed a patient.
Causation: The breach of duty led to an accident or injury that caused the death of the victim. Your lawyer will work with investigators, eyewitnesses, traffic reconstruction experts, industry professionals, and physicians to prove the victim’s death was caused by the accident or injury.
Damages: The victim’s death resulted in losses for the plaintiff. Your lawyer will provide the evidence mentioned in the section above to justify the damages you’re seeking and build the strength of your case.
Is there a wrongful death damages cap in Oklahoma?
No. In Oklahoma, there is no limitation on economic or non-economic damages. In short, the plaintiff may seek any amount in damages and the potential settlement amount will not be capped.
How are wrongful death funds distributed in Oklahoma?
Although every case is unique, the law does provide direction on how damages will be disbursed if you win your wrongful death lawsuit. Oklahoma law allows money damages for wrongful death as follows:
“Where the recovery is to be distributed according to a person’s pecuniary loss or loss of companionship, the judge shall determine the proper division.
“The above-mentioned distributions shall be made after the payment of legal expenses and costs of the action.”
In other words, the defendant’s insurance company will pay the damages. The plaintiff’s legal fees will be paid first and the remaining amount will either go directly to the plaintiff or to the victim’s estate. When you receive a wrongful death settlement, you will not have to pay income, estate, or inheritance taxes on the amount.
What is the highest wrongful death settlement?
On July 1, 2014, a food truck exploded, killing two people and injuring 11. The explosion was caused by a ruptured propane tank, which was attached to the truck and overfilled. The family of the deceased victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit, Galdamez, et al. v. U-Haul Co. of Pennsylvania, et al. The case concluded in 2018 and U-Haul Co. of Pennsylvania paid a record $160 million in a settlement.
While that suit was resolved with a massive settlement, wrongful death cases don’t always involve such high amounts. Awards settlements range widely and depend on the details of your case.
Before you file a wrongful death lawsuit, have an experienced wrongful death lawyer help you estimate the potential value of the claim. Your lawyer will know how to factor in all the damages, from medical bills and funeral expenses to pain and suffering.
This will give you a better idea of what compensation you may be entitled to for your losses, and whether it’s in your best interests to bring a suit.
GT Law Can Help You Get Justice
We know that no amount of money will take away the grief of losing a loved one. But settling a wrongful death claim can give your family justice and closure, as well as provide you with the financial resources to help you move forward.
GT Law has a long history of successfully handling wrongful death cases—we’ve helped families right wrongs for over 30 years. Our experience and knowledge can make all the difference in how your case is handled and the compensation you receive. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
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