New Jersey defines a wrongful death as a death “caused by a wrongful act, neglect or default of another”. The conditions that caused the death must be such that, if the deceased person had lived, they would have been able to bring a personal injury claim to court.
In this respect, a wrongful death claim can be seen as a personal injury claim in which the injured person is no longer able to present their case in court. Instead, another party must present the claim on the behalf of the deceased.
New Jersey allows a wrongful death claim to be filed in civil court even if a related criminal case has also been filed. A wrongful death claim is a civil claim so it must be filed by the personal representative or beneficiaries directly. Liability in the case is expressed solely in terms of monetary damages. By contrast, a criminal case is filed by the prosecuting attorney, and culpability is penalized with incarceration, probation and other penalties.
Statute of Limitations for Filing a New Jersey Wrongful Death Claim
The New Jersey statute of limitations, or time limit for filing a wrongful death claim is two years from the date of the deceased person’s death. If the claim is not filed within that two year window, it will almost certainly be barred from court entirely.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in New Jersey?
A wrongful death claim is filed by the deceased person’s surviving family members. The claim is usually filed by the executor or personal representative of the estate. However, any damages recovered in the case are distributed to surviving family members who were actually dependent on the deceased person at the time of death, or who are entitled to inherit from the deceased person under New Jersey’s inheritance laws.
Those who may receive a portion of the damages in a New Jersey wrongful death case include:
- The surviving spouse and children or grandchildren
- Surviving parents of the deceased
- Any surviving siblings, nieces or nephews of the deceased
- Any person who can prove they were dependent on the deceased
Damages in a New Jersey wrongful death case are intended to compensate the estate and the surviving family members for their losses resulting from the passing of the deceased. Consequently, damages in a New Jersey wrongful death claim may be available for losses including:
- Loss of financial support, based on the compensation the deceased could reasonably have been expected to earn if they had lived.
- Loss of companionship, care, comfort and guidance.
- Loss of value of household services like cleaning, childcare and other chores.
- Reasonable medical, funeral and burial expenses related to the deceased’s final illness or injury.
New Jersey law does not allow surviving family members to recover damages for emotional distress or to recover punitive damages in a wrongful death case. However, family members may be able to file a separate claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress in order to seek damages for severe emotional distress caused by the death if the surviving family member was present when the death occurred and suffered severe distress as a result.