Charlotte Personal Injury Attorney Matthew R. Arnold of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question “What exactly is a wrongful death claim?”
Woman causes husband’s death, sues herself for negligence, wins, then pays herself the money. If one believes the headline, it is true. A closer look reveals the headline is only partially true.
On December 27, 2011, Barbara Bagley lost control of the vehicle she was driving in a Nevada desert and struck a sagebrush, causing her car to flip over. Her husband, who was a passenger in the vehicle, passed away nearly two weeks later as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.
Bagley became the personal representative of her late husband’s estate, meaning she is the person empowered by law to collect her late husband’s assets, pay claims of his creditors, and distribute proceeds of the estate to heirs.
Part of the assets of an estate—depending on the state in which one resides—are proceeds from claims that were filed or may have been filed before or after a person’s death.
For example, if Bagley’s husband had been defrauded and a lawsuit against the fraudster settled after the husband’s death, the monies payable to the husband would be paid to the husband’s estate and distributed to his heirs.
Oftentimes when a person is killed in a car accident, a so-called “wrongful death” claim is made against the driver who caused the crash. The dead person—or decedent—obviously cannot be a Plaintiff; instead, the decedent’s estate is the Plaintiff, since the estate has the legal duty to collect all of the decedent’s assets—including monies owed by a negligent driver for causing the crash that killed the decedent.
The estate, in effect, is a person, and the estate is the person prosecuting the wrongful death lawsuit. The law considers many nonpersons to be “persons under the law.” This legal fiction applies to estates, to states, to the United States government, to corporations and other business entities, and to other legal entities that are not living organisms.
That brings us full circle back to Barbara Bagley. As the personal representative of her late husband’s estate, she has a duty to collect his assets. These assets include, potentially, monies from a wrongful death lawsuit against the driver who was responsible for her husband’s death. In Bagley’s case, that is herself.
To be clear, Bagley has not sued herself. Her late husband’s estate is suing her. Bagley happens to be the personal representative of the estate, but she is a separate and discreet person from the estate.
If the estate’s wrongful death claim is successful, then it is likely that whichever insurance company covered Bagley for negligent driving at the time of the accident will have to pay the claim to the estate. When it does, Bagley will have to distribute the funds to her late husband’s heirs.
If she is an heir, she will get some of the money. If she is his only heir, she will get all of it.
If you or someone you know has any questions regarding potential personal injury claims, feel free to contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina for a free consultation. Call toll free at (955) 370-2828 or click here for additional resources.
About the Author
Matthew Arnold is a Managing Member of Arnold & Smith, PLLC, where he focuses on the areas of family law, divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and equitable distribution.
Mr. Arnold was raised in Charlotte, where he graduated from Providence Senior High School. He attended Belmont Abbey College, where he graduated cum laude, before attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a full academic scholarship.
A board-certified specialist in the practice of Family Law, Mr. Arnold is admitted to practice in all state courts in North Carolina, in the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, in the North Carolina Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, and in the Fourth Circuit United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
In his free time, Mr. Arnold enjoys golfing and spending time with his wife and three children.
“McNall” by Terrence McNally from Arcata California, USA – Boyd3Uploaded by Gary Dee. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:McNall.jpg#/media/File:McNall.jpg
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