Losing a loved one is traumatizing. Trying to seek justice and compensation through a wrongful death claim can make matters even worse by adding frustrations. Understanding a bit about how Oklahoma deals with wrongful death claims can help, though.
To begin, Oklahoma defines wrongful death as any death that is caused by a “wrongful act” of a third party. The term “wrongful act” is left intentionally vague to allow more people to use this statute to pursue a claim afterward. However, it is widely accepted that the third party must have acted negligently, recklessly, or maliciously for any death that they caused to be considered wrongful.
Another way to think about wrongful death definitions in Oklahoma is to view it as a postmortem personal injury claim. If the deceased person could have filed a personal injury claim against the third party had they not passed away, then there should be valid legal grounds for a wrongful death claim.
Who is Allowed to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
You might think that any family member can bring a wrongful death claim after losing a loved one. However, under Oklahoma law, this is incorrect. Oklahoma only allows a personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file a wrongful death claim.
Personal representatives can be named in estate plans, like wills or trusts. If there is no named personal representative, then immediate family members like parents, spouses, and adult children can volunteer to file and manage the claim instead. When there are no named personal representatives and no family members want the responsibility of managing the wrongful death claim, then the court will step in and appoint someone to be the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate, thereby giving them the ability to file and pursue the claim.
Importantly, the personal representative might not have any stake in the wrongful death claim. That is to say, they might not benefit from any damages secured through the claim, be it a settlement or jury award.
Who Can Get Wrongful Death Damages?
Oklahoma splits wrongful death damages into two groups, which will benefit two different groups of people if the case ends in the claimant’s or plaintiff’s favor. The first group is comprised of damages to the deceased, including pain and suffering they experienced due to their fatal injury or illness and wages they would have likely earned in life had their injury or illness been fatal. Damages paid for these reasons will benefit the deceased’s estate.
The second group is comprised of damages experienced by the deceased’s loved ones. Funeral costs, emotional trauma, and lost companionship are the two most common damages in this group, which will be paid to the deceased’s eligible family members, i.e., spouses and children in most cases.
Punitive damages can also be awarded to either the estate or family members. Courts are able to approve punitive damages if the defendant acted in an inexcusable way that led to the fatal injury or illness. For example, punitive damages could be used to penalize a drunk driver who was traveling at 100 miles per hour in a residential area before causing a fatal crash.
Do You Have Time to File a Wrongful Death Claim?
The Oklahoma statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years, starting on the day the deceased person passed away, which might not be the day of their accident or injury. When the two-year statute of limitations ends, any claims brought afterward will more than likely be immediately rejected by the court. To be sure that you file a wrongful death claim on time but not too hastily, it is advised that you work with a local wrongful death attorney shortly after losing a loved one to another party’s negligence.
Do you need to file a wrongful death claim in Tulsa but don’t know where to begin? Aizenman Law Group can help. We approach wrongful death claims carefully because we know the grief you are feeling will make the situation extremely delicate. For respectful legal assistance to pursue fair compensation, justice, and possibly closure, contact our firm now.