Wrongful Death

The death of a loved one is one of the most difficult situations we face during our lifetimes. If it is completely unexpected, losing a family member can be even more traumatic. The grief, emotions, and complexity of such a profound loss are only complicated when a death is caused by another. Wrongful death refers to situations where a person’s death was caused by another person or business’s negligence or misconduct. If this is the case, the family and beneficiaries are typically entitled to financial compensation from the responsible parties or, in many cases, their insurance companies. In Iowa, folks are responsible for their actions. This is most important when their actions have the gravest of consequences.

There exist two general sources of recovery in a wrongful death case typically. Those are for:

The Estate of the deceased; and
The family members such as a spouse, children, or parents. These are called consortium claims.

The types of losses that can be claimed vary significantly depending on who brings the claim. This is one reason out of many why it is so important that the family of an Iowan who dies because of another’s actions employ an expert attorney in wrongful death claims. Many attorneys will claim they can take care of it. Very few specialize in this area and have a consistent track record of the best settlements and jury verdicts.

What is Wrongful Death in Iowa?

Wrongful deaths result from a variety of circumstances.  Some of the more common that we see at GRL Law include:

  1. Car Accidents;
  2. Semi-truck Accidents;
  3. Motorcycles Accidents;
  4. Boating Accidents;
  5. Bicycle Accidents;
  6. Pedestrian accidents with motor vehicles;
  7. Drunk Driving accidents or other circumstances resulting from alcohol use or intoxicated persons;
  8. Accidents caused by livestock or other farm or domestic animals;
  9. Animal Attacks;
  10. Accidents due to dangerous or defective conditions on property or other accidents at a business, a residence or other public or private premises;
  11. Construction accidents;
  12. Work related accidents;
  13. Lack of supervision of children or other negligence regarding children.

Iowa Wrongful Death Lawyers at GRL Law

Sometimes it is not entirely clear who is at fault in a situation where a person is killed. GRL Law specializes not only in the representation of families who have lost loved ones, but also in investigating the causes and determining who the responsible party is when necessary. We have the experience, tools and access to scientists and other specialists across the county to definitively determine what happened in an accident and why. We don’t just provide compensation, we provide answers; and sometimes, when all other avenues fail, justice.

No monetary value can be placed on a loved one’s life and no amount of money will bring back your spouse, child or parent. However that also doesn’t mean that those who are responsible should not be held accountable. Sometimes there is no crime committed but nonetheless an action or failure to act causes the death of a person. In these situations, the gravest and most catastrophic we ever face, you need the best. GRL Law, when good people need great lawyers.

Compensation for Estate

In a wrongful death claim, the claimant for the person that actually died is the estate. Others may have claims as well such as the family members of the deceased. This section covers the most frequent questions surrounding the estate in a wrongful death action.

What is an estate and how is it created?

The estate is actually created by filing a petition with the probate court which oversees the affairs and property of a person after they pass. The probate court is a specific division of the court system that is dedicated to these types and a limited number of other cases. Probate courts have very specific rules and requirements and any awards to an estate have to be handled properly to ensure there are no issues for the beneficiaries of the deceased. Therefore, an attorney that handles wrongful death claims has to be experienced and familiar with probate court as well as the civil court system to ensure that no problems arise with the receipt or disbursement of any funds that an estate receives.

What claims does an estate have?

What an estate can claim and recover varies greatly depending on the jurisdiction and situation.  In Iowa, estates have the following potential claims:

  • Lost value of the estate- this is basically the additional net worth that the deceased would have been expected to accumulate during his or her lifetime if he or she had not passed.  There are number of factors that go into this calculation such as the age of the person, health, education level, current net worth, salary and earning capacity, spending and saving habits, and other factors that would affect the net worth that a person can be expected to reach.  Oftentimes an expert is needed to perform and advanced economic analysis to determine a proper range for this claims
  • Lost Earnings- the value of lost wages or lost income from business from the date of injury until death.  This claim can typically only be made if a person survives the accident but then later dies from the injuries and missed work during that time.
  • Medical Expenses- any costs of medical treatment after the injury until death including hospital expenses, ambulance expenses, surgeries, prescriptions, imaging and testing such as x rays, MRI’s C/T scans EKG, etc.
  • Pain and suffering- this is the pain and suffering the person experienced after the accident and prior to their death.  This claim is only available typically if the person survived the accident for some period of time.  This type of damage is not able to be calculated by any mathematical formula but varies greatly depending on the injures and the situation.
  • Loss of Full Mind and Body- this is the loss of function of the mind and the body after the accident but prior to death.  Once again, this is only available if a person survives the accident for some period of time. This type of damage is also not able to be calculated by any mathematical formula but varies greatly depending on the effects that injuries have on the person and the situation.
  • Burial expenses-  the interest on the money paid for the burial of the deceased. This amount cannot exceed the cost of the burial.
Who is in charge of the estate?

n a wrongful death claim an experienced attorney will take care of legal matters of the estate. However the estate also has a personal representative that helps with the administration ad making decisions for the estate. This person is determined by a will or appointed by the court if there is no will.

What happens to money the estate receives?

This is a very complex question that cannot be succinctly answered in a few paragraphs. Typically, a person’s will dictates who gets what from a person’s estate. A person that receives money or property from an estate is called a beneficiary. If there is no will, Iowa’s probate law governs who the beneficiaries are. Typically the proceeds in an estate would go to the wife first if the person was married. If not, then the proceeds are typically divided among his or her children. If the person had no children, the estate would go to his or her parents or, if they are deceased, to other family members. Once again, proper administration of an estate is very important and therefore the family of the victim in a wrongful death accident needs an experienced attorney to ensure everything is done in a proper manner

How are estates compensated and what other factors are important to obtaining resolution?

Estate’s are compensated either though settlement with the at fault party or by obtaining a verdict from a jury in court. In most instances, the insurance of the wrongdoer is actually the one that defends the lawsuit and pays the claim. In many instances, the person who caused an accident will pay very little or nothing at all. Negotiations in these matters are complicated as each claim needs to be accounted for, each claimant needs to be accounted for, and the proceeds of a settlement properly disbursed and accounted for. Also, the probate court typically has to approve any settlement. Therefore if an attorney is not experienced in these cases, a case could technically settle but the settlement not be approved because it was not done properly.

Furthermore, since wrongful death claims can result in substantial verdicts, insurance companies often hire very experienced and talented defense attorneys in an effort to avoid having to pay or at least avoid paying what the claim is really worth. Therefore, it is very important that an attorney that handles a wrongful death claim is prepared financially and experienced to battle the big boys and the big firms. These case are very expensive to litigate. If a firm is not financially sound or it is just one lawyer who handles a claim, sometimes the lawyer simply can’t afford to litigate the claim in the way it should be litigated, such as retaining important experts. The attorney must be dedicated to your claim both personally and financially because it will get expensive and the law firm should be advancing the costs inmost instances. Lastly, an attorney that handles a wrongful death case not only needs to have gone up against the big boys, but beaten them. One of the most valuable assets to a claim is an attorney that the insurance company know 1)will go to trial and 2) will win. We the Defendant’s insurance companies know that, your claim is simply worth much more. GRL law has battled and beaten the big boys.

Compensation for Surviving Family

Parents can make a claim for their own personal losses when their child is killed or injured in Iowa. These types of claims are commonly referred to as loss of consortium, services, and support, or sometimes simply consortium claims. If a child is killed these claims typically are made along with the underlying estate’s claim in a wrongful death action unless it is not feasible to do so for some reason.

Parental Claims and Damages.

When a minor child is killed or injured, a parent can bring an action for loss of consortium and services.  Until relatively recently however, parents of an adult child were not allowed to make such a claim.  This changed in 2007 when the legislature amended the Iowa code to allow parents to bring claims for the death of an adult child as well.  Note that parents are still not allowed to make a claim under Iowa law for injuries to an adult child no matter how severe.

  1. Loss of consortium- Parental consortium refers to a parent’s loss of the intangible benefits of the parent child relationship such as companionship, cooperation, aid and affection.  Like pain and suffering, there is no mathematical formula to calculate these losses.  However, these losses are valued significantly by Iowa juries and can and have led to very substantial verdicts.  In fact GRL law has obtained 3 of the 5 highest ever reported verdicts for adult-child consortium claims in Iowa.
  2. Loss of Support- Parents are also entitled to the economic value of the loss of the child’s services which includes both the amount the child could have earned outside the home as well as the value of the child’s labor inside the home.
  3. Other damages- Parents are also entitled to compensations for medical bills and burial expenses as well if they incur those expenses
Children's Claims and Damages

In addition to claims for their own injuries, children may also make a claim for the injuries to and/or death of their parents. This is called a child’s loss of consortium. “Consortium” is the legal term used to describe the services and companionship that go along with the parent-child relationship. The younger a child is when their parent is injured or killed, the more valuable this claim may become becuase they are deprived of that relationship for that much longer. While it is difficult to put a value on a relationship that most of us would characterize as “priceless,” the law allows a child to be compensated for their loss to the extent that a monetary figure can be placed on the loss.

While nothing is better then getting things back to the way they were before an injury or death, making sure the responsible party is held legally responsible is one step in the right direct.