Law Office of Ralph C. Petty

What Is A Wrongful Death Claim?


A wrongful death claim is any death that was caused by the wrongful or negligent act of another. The fault issue is essential, because that’s where the wrongfulness comes from. The death may result from a fall in a dangerous condition, a car crash, or any death that was caused by someone else.

Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Claim?

In the State of Utah, a wrongful death claim is really two claims in one. The first claim is for wrongful death, which is the death of the decedent. This claim is pursued by the estate of the deceased or a representative of that estate. The second claim is called the survivor’s claim. This claim is pursued by the spouse, children, parents, extended family, brothers or sisters who had a significant relationship with the deceased person and can prove that they were harmed and injured as a result of the death.

What Are The Top Misconceptions About Wrongful Death Claims?

One misconception is that the heirs and the estate of the deceased are the same. The estate is an independent entity and the heirs are those most closely related to the deceased. The estate needs an attorney and, unless the heirs all agree, the heirs need an attorney of their own. The attorney for the heirs monitors the actions of the attorney for the estate to protect the claims of the heirs. If the interests of the estate and the heirs are similar, then one attorney can represent the estate and the heirs.

What Is The Biggest Challenges Clients Face In Wrongful Death Claims?

The biggest challenge in a wrongful death case is that there is only one recovery which must be divided between the heirs. For example, when a parent dies with one or more children still at home, or one or more of the children have a unique relationship with the deceased, then the relative damages of the heirs may be different. The challenge is dividing the compensation between the heirs. This generally requires all of the heirs to agree to the division of the estate. If there is no agreement between all of the heirs, each heir may need to hire their own attorney to establish the portion of the recovery to which they are entitled. With several heirs vying for a distribution from the estate, without an agreement, the estate may require another court proceeding or trial to be divided Most of the time, however, heirs can and do agree. The challenge emerges when they can not agree and their relationship and their interests in the deceased’s estate are different.

If the liability for the wrongful death is contested, the case must be prepared for trial. In trial, the estate (representing the deceased) and the heirs may all participate. Generally, one attorney represents the interests of the estate and all of the heirs, if the heirs agree. When the jury decides the case, the jury can make an award to each heir. The jury decision generally completes the process.

Are Punitive Damages Ever Recoverable In A Wrongful Death Claim?

Yes, punitive damages are sometimes recoverable in a wrongful death claim depending on how egregious the wrongful acts of the at-fault party were. For example, if the wrongful party was drunk and caused an auto accident, shot the deceased person or hit them with a club, then that egregious behavior could allow punitive damages.

For more information on Wrongful Death Claims In Utah, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 783-1111 today.

Ralph C. Petty, ESQ.

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