Wrongful Death in Wisconsin

If you have lost a loved one as the result of an accident caused by negligence, failure to act, or a wrongful act of another person, then it is important to be aware of Wisconsin’s wrongful death and survival statutes. The statutes establish the right to pursue two types of civil action against the responsible party. A survival action may be brought by the victim’s estate for damages suffered by the victim from the time of the initial injury until the time of their death. A wrongful death action may be brought by certain relatives or representatives, as specified by statute, for emotional and financial damages caused by a loved one’s untimely death.

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Wrongful Death Claim in Wisconsin

You must generally file a claim within three years of the date of initial injury or the date when it could “reasonably have been discovered.” Calculating the date can be complicated when an injury is not immediately realized, when there is an protracted period of time between injury and death, or when an incident causes a cascade of health events which ultimately lead to death. There are also notable exceptions, such as medical malpractice, which generally requires filing within three years of injury, or one year of discovery of the injury, but not to exceed five years from the date of the act or omission which caused the injury. Compounding on this complexity, in 2015 the Wisconsin legislature enacted a new law limiting the statute of limitations to two years when a wrongful death arises from an accident involving a motor vehicle.

Because claims are barred if they are filed outside the statute of limitations in all but the most exceptional of cases, it’s important to consult with an attorney and file your claim quickly. Claims can take a long time to run through the courts, and you don’t want any question as to whether the statute of limitations has expired.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim in Wisconsin?

A wrongful death action may be brought by the personal representative of the deceased or by someone who is entitled to recover damages. Those who may be entitled to recover damages for wrongful death include:

  • Spouse or domestic partner
  • Child or children under 18 years of age
  • Adult child or children
  • Parents
  • Siblings

For some recoverable damages, the list of individuals who may bring a claim is set forth in order of preference as a hierarchy where only the person or persons who exist at the highest position on the list may bring a claim to the exclusion of all others. For some types of claims, such as medical malpractice, the list of potential claimants is even more strictly limited.

What Kind of Damages Can Be Awarded?

A survival action may seek damages for personal injuries including conscious pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages before death. Punitive damages are also recoverable in survivor actions.

A wrongful death action may seek damages including loss of consortium, loss of society and companionship, medical and funeral expenses, and pecuniary loss. Loss of consortium recognizes the special relationship of affection and intimacy between spouses and domestic partners. Loss of society and companionship accounts for the emotional grief caused by the death of a family member and is statutorily capped at $500,000 for a deceased minor and $350,000 for a deceased adult at the time of this writing. Pecuniary losses include loss of financial support and loss of the value of household services.

There are multitude combinations of claimants and recoverable damages for wrongful death actions. A careful study of the wrongful death statute is a crucial first step in properly identifying all of the remedies that are available in your specific case.

Consult With a Legal Professional to Protect Your Rights

The wrongful death and survivor action statutes and court decisions interpreting the statutes are rife with potential pitfalls that may jeopardize your ability to obtain full and fair recovery following the death of a loved one due to the negligence of another. It is important that you discuss your claim with an experience attorney to protect your rights and inform your decisions.

Our experienced attorneys are available to help navigate the legal landscape applicable to your specific case. Contact us today to arrange a free consultation and case evaluation