Wrongful Death Recovery in Kentucky
When somebody’s negligent, reckless or intentional act results in another’s death, Kentucky law allows for the estate and the family members of the deceased to receive compensation for the expenses and hardships that have been imposed upon them because of this act. An action to recover such compensation is called a Wrongful Death action, and just as in a personal injury lawsuit, the burden falls on the injured party (here the surviving family) to bring the action and prove all of the elements necessary to obtain compensation, including proving the other party’s negligence and proving the type and amount of damages caused. Below is a look at some of the specifics of maintaining an action for wrongful death in Kentucky, and how it is different from a personal injury case.
Who can bring an action for wrongful death?
In a personal injury case, the plaintiff is of course the physically injured party. In the case of wrongful death, the action is brought by the personal representative of the estate. This is typically the person named in the will as the executor, or a person appointed by the court to administer the estate. The personal representative may or may not be a family member, but it is primarily family members who benefit from a wrongful death action.
What kinds of damages are recoverable for wrongful death?
In a personal injury case, legal damages are those expenses personal to the injured party, such as medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. Since the persons harmed in a wrongful death case are the surviving family members, recoverable damages include those losses personal to them. These losses typically include the loss of the companionship of a spouse, the loss of the guidance of a parent, the loss of financial support, and the value of lost household services. How these losses are valued depends on many factors your attorney can bring out in trial or during settlement negotiations.
Kentucky law also allows a jury to award punitive damages in cases where the death was caused by a willful act or gross negligence. Punitive damages are meant to punish the wrongdoer and serve as an example to others to deter similar bad conduct. Typically, the more outrageous the conduct, the higher the punitive damage award will be. Punitive damages are not awarded in every case. Your attorney can advise you on whether it is proper to seek punitive damages in your case.
How are wrongful death funds distributed?
Funeral and burial expenses, as well as the costs of bringing and maintaining the wrongful death action, are paid to the estate, so that the personal representative can pay these expenses or have the estate reimbursed for them. The rest of any settlement or judgment is distributed to the surviving family members in the following manner: half is given to the surviving spouse, and the other half is divided among the surviving children. If there are no children or other descendants (grandchildren or great-grandchildren), then the entire award goes to the spouse. Likewise, if the spouse is not living, then the entire award goes to the children. If there aren’t any children or a surviving spouse, then the award goes to the deceased’s parents. In the case where there are no parents, spouse or children, then the entire award will go to the deceased’s estate, where it will be distributed according to the terms of the will, or the Kentucky laws of intestate succession if there is no will or other estate planning document, such as a trust.
Wrongful death cases are often difficult to pursue and prove. For compassionate and effective representation in a wrongful death matter in central Kentucky, contact Davis & Haymond, P.S.C. at 859-624-3380 in Richmond or 606-726-9991 in Irvine.