Wrongful Death Overview

A wrongful death claim arises when a person dies in an accident that is caused by the negligent or reckless conduct of another. A wrongful death suit is different from other types of personal injury claims because the actual victim (the "decedent") is not bringing suit. Rather it is the family members or the decedent's estate. As such, a wrongful death claim is brought to recover damages for the injuries that the surviving family and/or estate have suffered due to the death of the victim. The damages recovered do not include damages that are personal to the decedent, since the decedent is not allowed to recover for pain and suffering, mental distress, or any other form of compensatory damages unique to him or her. The purpose of a wrongful death suit is to provide relief to family members who have been injured emotionally and financially as a result of the family member's death.

To file a wrongful death suit in Wisconsin, you must show that:

  • The death of a person was caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default;
  • The act, neglect or default would have entitled the injured person to file an action to recover damages had the death not occurred;
  • There are surviving beneficiaries, children, or dependants of the victim; and
  • Monetary damages have resulted from the decedent's death. Wis. Stat. § 895.03.

Wisconsin law makes no distinction between persons who can file a wrongful death suit and persons who are beneficiaries. In Wisconsin, a surviving spouse, child, parent or guardian, or personal representative of the deceased person may file a suit on behalf of the surviving spouse, children or parents. Wis. Stat. § 895.04(1). A personal representative is a person appointed by the decedent's estate to represent the beneficiaries.

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