Wrongful Death in Kentucky

When someone dies because of another person’s action, it can be murder (with intent to kill) or wrongful death (accidental). It may seem like splitting hairs; it still means that someone is dead. However, there is a big difference in terms of the punishment. When there was intent to kill that person, it is a criminal act, and that person will go to jail. On the other hand, if there was no intent to kill and the death came about by accident or a s a result of an assault, it is not a crime. However, the person or entity responsible for the death will still be civilly liable if there was negligence involved. Louisville KY personal injury lawyers call this wrongful death.

All states have laws regarding wrongful death. In Kentucky, wrongful death is “the death of a person (that) results from an injury inflicted by the negligence or wrongful act of another.” (Kentucky Statutes § 411.130) The act may have been intentional, such as beating up a person with a bat, but it does not necessarily mean that the desired end was the death of the victim. A good example is road rage. It is easy for two people to act recklessly in the heat of the moment, and if one of them dies as a result, that would be wrongful death, not murder.

A clearer example would be product liability. If a drug company sells a product they know could have serious side effects on some patients, but intentionally withholds this information from the public, they become civilly liable for anyone who dies from taking the drug. While the drug company did not assault or even know the victim, the fact that they violated their duty of care towards their customers by withholding vital information means they are directly responsible for that death.

As the victim is dead, other people may file a wrongful death suit. Kentucky law only allows the personal representative of the deceased’s estate to file. The probate court names the personal representative. Any awards from the lawsuit will accrue to the estate and be distributed to the legal beneficiaries of the estate, if any, once all administrative expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, are deducted.

The spouse and children are the primary beneficiaries, but in the absence of both, the parents of the deceased will receive the award. If there are no surviving parents, the estate is distributed as dictated by the deceased’s will, or in the absence of a will, any other legal heirs. A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed even as a criminal case is ongoing; Kentucky law only allows one year from the victim’s death for a wrongful death lawsuit to be filed.

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