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What Is the Difference Between Wrongful Death and Survival Action?

The sudden death of a loved one is overwhelming, especially when the death occurs due to someone else’s negligent or wrongful actions. There are many decisions to be made in the days and weeks following the death, and these decisions may impact the rest of your life as well as that of your family. It’s difficult to make choices when you’re in the midst of grief and anguish, and one choice many surviving family members struggle with is which type of claim they should make after a loved one dies due to another party’s careless or reckless actions. What is the difference between wrongful death cases and a survival action claim, and how do family members choose?

Understanding Wrongful Death Claims

While all deaths feel wrong to loved ones, legally it’s a wrongful death when a close family member dies due to someone else’s actions or negligence. A wrongful death claim focuses on providing compensation to family members left behind after the loss of an income provider or a family member who provided critical services within the home such as caring for the children and household. A successful wrongful death claim results in compensation for damages including the following:

  • Medical expenses incurred before the death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Lost income for the number of earning years the family member would have had remaining to them had they not died
  • Lost benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions
  • Loss of household service
  • Loss of a spouse’s companionship and consortium and/or loss of a parent’s guidance and support
  • Compensation for grief and emotional anguish

In cases of egregious actions resulting in a wrongful death, family members may also claim punitive damages. This is an amount of money awarded to the family as a punishment and deterrent to the wrongdoer.

Wrongful death claims proceed independently of any criminal action in the case and do not hinge upon a guilty verdict in a criminal trial.

What is a Survival Action?

While wrongful death claims provide compensation to family members for the loss of a provider, a survival action provides compensation directly to the decedent’s estate. A survival action claim takes an action similar to one the deceased could have taken had they survived their injury. Instead of compensating the family for their financial losses, a survival action compensates the victim for the losses suffered before their death and places the settlement or court award into the victim’s estate. It’s then passed on to the beneficiaries of their will or according to the state’s intestacy laws if they didn’t leave a will or estate plan. Compensation commonly awarded in survival actions include the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Income loss
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional anguish
  • Fear of imminent death

If the death occurred due to negligent or wrongful action on the part of someone else, a family representative—typically the executor or personal representative named in the decedent’s will—files a survival action claim.

Should I Choose a Wrongful Death Claim or a Survival Action Case?

It’s best to speak to a Van Nuys wrongful death attorney before choosing which type of claim best applies to your loved one’s case. Often, survival actions provide greater compensation in cases where the victim survived for an extended period after the injury before eventually succumbing to their injuries, resulting in expensive medical costs. On the other hand, if the deceased loved one had many years of potential income-earning ahead of them before they died, the family members could benefit more from a wrongful death claim.