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Understanding New Jersey’s wrongful death and survival laws

If you are a New Jersey resident who recently lost a loved one, you are going through a very painful period of your life. If your loved one’s death resulted from someone’s negligence, carelessness or wrongdoing, not only must you deal with your grief, you also must deal with the nagging question of whether you should file a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or entity that caused your loved one’s death.

New Jersey has two separate laws that make it possible for you to recover monetary damages from the allegedly negligent person and/or entity. One is the Wrongful Death Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:31-4); the other is the Survival Act (N.J.S.A. 2A:31-1). Since the types of damages that you can recover under each are different, you may wish to consider filing a suit that has two separate parts, one for recovery under each of the statutes.

Common wrongful death causes

While a wrongful death can result from many circumstances, the most common causes include the following:

  • Vehicular accidents: cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, etc.
  • Medical malpractice by a doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologist, pharmacist, nurse, x-ray technician, lab technician, hospital, etc.
  • Defective products
  • Airplane, helicopter or boat accidents

Who can file

In New Jersey, you can choose who files the suit. You can file it yourself if you are the spouse or child of the decedent, or the executor of your deceased loved one’s estate can file the suit on behalf of you and other family members. Either way, the suit must be filed within two years of the decedent’s death. Consequently, you may wish to talk with an experienced wrongful death attorney relatively soon after your loved one’s death.

What is recoverable

You can recover the following damages in the wrongful death part of your suit:

  • The amount of the decedent’s funeral expenses and medical bills
  • The value of the financial losses you have sustained by reason of the decedent’s death, such as his or her financial support
  • The value of the decedent’s future wages that (s)he would have earned had (s)he not died
  • The value of your loss of the decedent’s companionship, advice, guidance, nurturing, etc.
  • The value of your loss of the decedent’s contributions to the household, such as cooking, cleaning, child care, etc.

In the survival part of your suit, you can recover the value of the decedent’s pain and suffering and his or her lost wages from the date of the accident to the date of his or her death.

You cannot recover compensation for your own mental and emotional distress in most circumstances. However, this prohibition has exceptions. You should consult a knowledgeable wrongful death attorney about your specific situation.

Who can recover

You and other family members can recover these damages if you are the spouse, child, grandchild or dependent of the decedent. Both biological and adopted children qualify. A dependent does not necessarily have to be a family member as long as (s)he can prove that (s)he was in fact dependent on the decedent for support, living expenses, etc.

While no amount of money can compensate you for the loss of your loved one, many families find that prevailing in a wrongful death lawsuit gives them not only the satisfaction of holding the negligent person accountable, but also a sense of closure regarding their loved one’s death.

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