What is a Third-Party Wrongful Death Claim?

Kentucky law says that a wrongful death occurs when “a person [suffers] from a fatal injury inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another.”  Understanding the involved parties is important in appreciating the types of wrongful death lawsuits which may be brought by the deceased’s family members. “First party” in this case is the deceased victim.  "Second party" is the negligent person or legal entity whose negligence was the direct cause of the wrongful death. Sometimes another (or “third”) party is involved whose negligence was a contributing – or indirect – cause of the fatal accident.

The majority of third-party wrongful death lawsuits involve workplace accidents. This is because most Kentucky businesses subscribe to the state’s workers’ compensation program, which mandates that they either carry private liability insurance or post a significant bond by which they are self-insured. Business liability insurance is underwritten by private companies, but Kentucky’s workers’ comp program is administered by the state.

The benefit to employers who participate in workers’ comp is the guarantee that – with a few exceptions – they are immune to suit by their employees (or family members, in event of a wrongful death) seeking additional damages not covered by workers’ comp, such as pain and suffering, lost wages (including the value of any company-paid benefits) and other non-economic losses.

The problem is that workers’ comp doesn’t fully compensate seriously injured workers, or their families in the event of wrongful death. All it pays are the worker’s medical bills, some disability, and about two-thirds of the employee’s weekly wages for a limited time while they cannot work.

The real losers in a wrongful workplace death are family survivors, as workers’ comp provides for only limited survivor benefits. They cannot sue the employer for non-economic damages such as lost companionship of a spouse or lost comfort and support to surviving children. It is possible that a third party at the worker’s job could have contributed to the accidental death and thus be a source of compensation. Some scenarios include:

·         If your father worked in construction or in a warehouse and a third party (such as a visitor, subcontractor, or vendor) created the circumstances which caused the accident that killed your loved one, they can be sued for wrongful death damages.

·         If your husband was operating what was subsequently determined to be defective, inherently dangerous, or improperly maintained machinery, the party responsible for this condition may be subject to an insurance claim or lawsuit; this could be the manufacturer, or distributor or the firm that installed or maintained the equipment.

·         If your family member was killed by a driver while he was working as a delivery vehicle route driver, a claim can be filed with the driver’s insurance company and a lawsuit pursued if they refuse or delay payment or offer an unacceptably low amount.

·         If your family member was working in a remote location for his/her employer and suffered an accident because the remote property location owner was negligent, you and your family members can file an insurance claim or wrongful death premises lawsuit.

·         If a drunk driver kills a family member, it is possible to sue the bartender and or the owner of the establishment where the driver was drinking. Filing a “dram shop” wrongful death lawsuit is particularly difficult to prove, and several conditions must be met to be successful; you will need a particularly seasoned injury lawyer to help you.

·         There are a large number of scenarios apart from workers’ comp in which a third party which had an indirect hand in the death of a beloved family member is exposed to a liability insurance claim or civil lawsuit.


Damages Available to Third-Party Workplace Wrongful Death Survivors

Third-party lawsuits are meant to supplement workers’ comp benefits -- not replace them. The following compensations may be awarded to the deceased’s “personal representative” (usually the spouse, but if no spouse, a designated “child”). Even though only the legal representative of the deceased can file the lawsuit, damages can be recovered and then distributed to other survivors, including the spouse and children.

·         Medical bills incurred before the death

·         All funeral and related burial expenses

·         All of the deceased’s present and future lost income

·         All non-economic damages such as lost spousal companionship and loss of comfort and support by surviving children

·         Punitive damages if the wrongful act was particularly egregious, such as intentional violence or grossly negligent acts.

If your family has lost a loved one to any accident, in workplace or otherwise, and you suspect others may have been involved, you must get in touch with a seasoned wrongful death attorney without delay to protect your grieving family’s full compensation rights.



From the Author: Wrongful Death Claims