WRONGFUL DEATH

DO I HAVE A CLAIM AS AN HEIR IN A UTAH WRONGFUL DEATH CASE?

What are “Heirs” in a Utah Wrongful Death Insurance Claim? 

Heirs in general are your relatives.  But in a wrongful death insurance claim heirs have a specific, more narrow meaning.

Who are the “Heirs” in a Utah Wrongful Death Insurance Claim?           

Wrongful Death Attorney

In short, wrongful death heirs are the spouse, children and parents.  If these people have predeceased the person who has died, then the wrongful death proceeds can be distributed to a broader set of relative heirs under the Utah Probate Code.

The Utah wrongful death statute reads:

78B-3-105.  Definition of heir.  (Decedent is the person who died)

Utah’s Wrongful Death Statute Defines Heirs as:

(a)          the decedent’s spouse;

(b)          the decedent’s children;

(c)           the decedent’s natural parents, or if the decedent was adopted, then his adoptive parents;

(d)          the decedent’s stepchildren who:  (i) are in their minority at the time of decedent’s death; and (ii) are primarily financially dependent on the decedent.

(2)          “Heirs” means any blood relative as provided by the law of intestate succession if the decedent is not survived by a person under Subsections (1)(a), (b), or (c).

Who Can File a Utah Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

The decedent’s personal representative or an heir on behalf of all the other heirs can file a wrongful death insurance claim or lawsuit.

What if a Criminal Case is Ongoing?  Does that Stop an Heir’s Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

No.  Just because the wrongdoer was or is being prosecuted criminally in Utah or elsewhere does not stop your ability to hire an attorney and start the wrongful death lawsuit.   Your choice of Utah Wrongful Death Lawyer should carefully work with law enforcement to prosecute your claims.

Wrongful Death Statute “Heirs” versus Probate Code Definition of “Heirs.”

Heirs in a Utah wrongful death action has a much more narrow definition.  If there are no defined heirs under the wrongful death statute, then any heirs as defined by Utah Probate law are included.   In order for your sisters, uncles and other relatives to inherent, your spouse, parents and children must have predeceased you for them to inherit.

How do You Prove a Utah Wrongful Death Case?

Proving a wrongful death case includes showing the jury, judge or insurance adjuster that the other person was 51 percent or more at-fault for the death.  Then proving damages of the heirs is a lower standard.

In car accident cases the Utah Traffic Code is referenced often to show which driver was at-fault.  Otherwise the basic principles of Utah tort and negligence law are used to show the other side was at-fault.

What are the Types of Damages and Claims Heirs have in a Utah Wrongful Death?

Each surviving heir, whether that be the spouse, children, or parents have the following damages.

(1).  General damages for loss of their decedent.

(2).   Economic damages incurred caring for the decedent before the death.

(3).  Loss of household contributions from the deceased heir.  This can occur when you a husband loses his wife, who was rearing the family’s children and tending the family home.  The lost economic contribution from a deceased working spouse can be significant over time.  This loss of household work should not be underestimated.

(4).  Pain and emotional suffering experienced by the decedent until his or her death following the wrongful act.

(5).  Burial / Funeral costs.  Medical expenses resulting from the wrongful act that caused the death.

(6).  Loss of companionship, whether this be friendship, a business partner, etc.

(7).  Punitive damages.  Sometimes applicable if the at-fault party’s conduct was egregious.

(8).  Past lost income from time of the passing into the future.  The lost income stream provided by the deceased individual.

(9).  Pain and suffering endured by the surviving heirs, parents, spouse and children.

How are Wrongful Death Damages Split up Amongst Multiple Heirs?

Utah Wrongful Death Damages from insurance proceeds or a judgment against a wrongdoer can be split up in the follow ways.

(1).  Agreement.  The heirs agrees to a distribution. (2).  Judicial Order.  The judge orders the wrongful death proceeds split up amongst the heirs according to what is just after a trial. (3).  Arbitration/Mediation.  The heirs mediate or arbitration how the insurance proceeds are to be split up.            

The Utah Wrongful Death Statute reads who can bring the lawsuit as follows:

78B-3-106.  Death of a person — Suit by heir or personal representative.

(1)          Except as provided in Title 34A, Chapter 2, Workers’ Compensation Act, when the death of a person is caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs, or his personal representatives for the benefit of his heirs, may maintain an action for damages against the person causing the death, or, if the person is employed by another person who is responsible for his conduct, then against the other person.

(2)          If the adult person has a guardian at the time of his death, only one action may be maintained for the person’s injury or death.

(3)          The action may be brought by either the personal representatives of the adult deceased person, for the benefit of the person’s heirs, or by the guardian for the benefit of the heirs, as defined in Section 78B-3-105.

(4)          In every action under this section and Section 78B-3-105 damages may be given as under all the circumstances of the case may be just.

Who files first is not necessary going to get an advantage as all heir will be represented in the wrongful death lawsuit and if the parties can’t agree to a distribution, then the judge will split up the wrongful death proceeds.   Consult an attorney to see if you need to file and represent the heirs in a Utah Wrongful Death Lawsuit.

What is the Statute of Limitations in a Utah Wrongful Death Case?

Answer:  2 Years.  See Utah Code Ann 78B-2-304 (2021).

“78B-2-304.  Within two years.

An action may be brought within two years:

. . .

(2)          for recovery of damages for a death caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another;

. . . .

Whenever a statute of limitations becomes a problem, always consult an attorney to ensure you got the correct statute of limitations.  A careful read of the statute is always in order.

Are all the State’s Wrongful Death Laws the Same? 

                Each state has their own wrongful death laws. The federal government has their own wrongful death statues and laws.  Idaho wrongful death is different from Wyoming’s wrongful death laws.

What is the Deceased Person was Very Young or Very Old?  Does that Matter in a Utah Wrongful Death?

                Young people, newborns and elderly all have wrongful death claims.  The extend of damages for their wrongful death depends on a host of factors on how the death affected the heirs.  The extend the deceased person earning capacity?  The extend and duration of the relationship between the deceased and the heir are just a few factors to consider.

Here are some common wrongful death causes:

Car / auto / trucking / semi-truck / 18 Wheelers accidents

Medical malpractice.  Unexplained patient death.

Workplace accidents.  Industrial accidents.

Catastrophic accidents.  Oil rig explosions.  Fires.  Gas line, electrocution.  Carbon monoxide poisoning. Construction accidents.

Aviation, Off-Road Vehicles deaths.

Negligent supervision of children.

Criminal activity.  DUI driving.

What to Look For in a Utah Wrongful Death Attorney When Hiring One?

Wrongful death cases are not your ordinary insurance claim or smaller car accident case.  You should look for the following in a Utah Wrongful Death Attorney

(1).  Does the attorney specialize in personal injury?  Or does the lawyer also some divorce, bankruptcy and then your wrongful death claim.  Don’t hire general practice attorney to handle your serious Utah wrongful death claim.  Is the lawyer a solo practice attorney who does not have the financial resources to hire the best experts, and staff power to fight off the insurance company?

(2).  Are they a trial lawyer?  Not every attorney goes to court.  Most attorneys have never tried a civil or criminal jury trial in their lives.  You don’t want to hire a first-timer attorney who has never stepped foot in a courtroom with your serious wrongful death claim.

(3).  Financial Abilities to Hire the Best Experts?  Solo, or small firms often do not have the financial abilities to carry significant case costs or hire the best expert witnesses.   Without economists, doctors and other expert witnesses your case will be dead in the water, or significantly devalued.  The insurance companies know which attorneys are trial lawyers and which one have the financial backing to press and build a serious wrongful death claim.

UTAH WRONGFUL DEATH ATTORNEY Jake Gunter(801) 373-6345.

Utah Wrongful Death Attorney Jake Gunter has been practicing law for nearly 20 years.  He solely makes his living in a courtroom advocating for people injured or accused of crimes.   His law firm of Howard Lewis & Petersen, PC has been around since 1950, helping injured people state wide.

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