Filing A Michigan Wrongful Death Claim: What You Need to Know About the Process

For more than 70 years, Sinas Dramis Law Firm has provided legal counsel for those wrongfully injured in Michigan. Unfortunately, the firm has also represented many families, whose loved ones died because of the negligence of another. Depending on the circumstances, the surviving family may have rights to claims under the Michigan Wrongful Death Act. In the content below, Sinas Dramis Law Firm provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions we get from clients about filing a Michigan wrongful death claim.

When can a Michigan wrongful death case be pursued?

Whenever you experience the death of a loved one, you obviously have a huge loss. The wrongful death statute here in Michigan is a specific statute that provides a family the right to pursue a wrongful death action if there would’ve been underlying personal injury cases. So, for example, whether an auto negligence case, a medical malpractice case, a premises liability case, and any of those situations that lead to someone’s death it could raise action under the wrongful death statute.

Who can pursue a wrongful death case in Michigan?

For a loved one to pursue a wrongful death case, the first step is to open an estate in the name of the decedent. This is a process that must be done through the probate court. In opening the estate, you must decide who will be appointed personal representative of that estate. When the family can agree on the person who should be appointed, it’s an easy process. However, there can be disputes about which family member serves that role, making the process more complicated. Once someone becomes the personal representative, they then have the authority to hire a legal counsel to pursue a wrongful death case. They also have the authority to settle the case.

Now the case is subject to the probate court’s supervision and approval. So if you have a wrongful death case pending in another court, in order to get the approval for a settlement, you have to go to the probate court and seek approval to settle. The court also has to approve how any proceeds from the settlement would be distributed between the family members.

Who is the person that’s usually picked to be the personal representative of an estate?

The list of those who can serve as a personal representatives of an estate can include:

  • Spouse
  • Child/Stepchild
  • Parent
  • Sibling/Step Sibling
  • Grandparent
  • Other Family Member

However, in most cases, it is usually agreed on by the family who is the best person to serve that role.

What damages are recoverable in Michigan?

If you have a wrongful death case, the damages can include:

  • Compensating certain family members for their loss of society and companionship with the decedent. This is often the person’s spouse, their children, their brothers and sisters, their parents, and their grandparents. When it comes to their right to recover these damages, each person’s relationship with the decedent needs to be analyzed and if they have a very close relationship, the damages may be greater than a family member who wasn’t that close with the person. So every time you have a wrongful death case, you need to assess the relationships with, the decedent and decide what is the way to allocate the proceeds from the settlement between the family members.
  • Economic damage. That’s where you have the dependent, such as children or the spouse claiming the loss of economic support to the household in the form of income, and other services to the household. There can be various expenses and, and economic damages that can be pursued in a wrongful death case.

It should be noted that the underlying type of case, whether it’s an auto case or a medical malpractice case, can affect the types and ranges of damages that can actually be recovered in a wrongful death case.

What parties can be sued for wrongful death?

The parties that can be sued for wrongful death are the parties that somehow contributed to the wrongful conduct that led to the person’s injuries and or death. When it comes down to the assessment of who, it depends on what you’re talking about. If you’re dealing with a motor vehicle crash, you’re talking about whether the driver was negligent and how they operated the vehicle. Also in that context, the owner of the motor vehicle can be held responsible. If the at-fault driver was operating the vehicle in the scope of his or her employment, an employer can be held liable. So you have to look at the underlying case and decide who could be held liable under that type of case.

How long does a family have to file a wrongful death case in Michigan?

It’s typically governed by the statute of limitations that applies to the underlying claim. So if it’s an auto negligence case, you have three years. For medical malpractice, there is a two-year statute of limitations. Premises liability also has three years. So you look at the underlying cause of action, and then there can also be an extension of that statute of limitations depending on when the death occurs and when the personal representative is appointed.

All families should understand there is a statute of limitations, and you should investigate your rights sooner than later.

Filing a Michigan wrongful death claim involving motor vehicle crashes, how are they different than other types of wrongful death?

In a situation where you have a person who was killed as a result of a motor vehicle crash, the crash will be governed by the Michigan Auto No-Fault Insurance law. So while the Michigan wrongful death statute is considered, ultimately it turns into a case where you have to decide what the person could recover under the Michigan no-fault insurance law, and then decide how the wrongful death statute also allows other rights to damages.

What is the typical timeline for a Michigan wrongful death case?

A timeline for a wrongful death case in Michigan is very much affected by the facts and circumstances of the case. If there are disputes over negligence and who is at fault for the death, there can oftentimes be a reason to litigate sooner rather than later, and that litigation may be more contentious. If the underlying conduct is obviously negligent and the parties know that there’s going to be a liability, there can be more of an effort to try to resolve the case before a lawsuit’s filed. That process can sometimes take a long time but often can lead to a settlement without an unnecessarily contentious and lengthy litigation. So the ultimate answer is that it varies depending on the case and the circumstances of the case. Families should expect, however, that if negligence is being fought over, they’re probably in for a process in the courts that could take up to one or two years.

Do you need an attorney to help you with filing a Michigan wrongful death claim?

Seeking experienced legal representation is crucial in these types of situations. The process can be very complicated and having someone who understands the process fight for your rights is always a good option. Most personal injury law firms will offer you free case consultation, meaning it won’t cost you anything to determine if you’ve got a case. At Sinas Dramis Law Firm, under our fee agreements, our services won’t cost you anything unless we obtain a winning verdict or a settlement.