Can an Estate Sue for Wrongful Death in Utah?

A wrongful death lawyer reaching over his desk for the shoulder of a grieving client while they discuss the case.

Yes. The personal representative or executor of the estate can sue on behalf of the estate’s heirs.

You can also sue if you are one of the heirs, such as a surviving spouse or child. If you’re suing on behalf of an estate, any damages collected in the lawsuit will be distributed to the heirs according to state law or as directed by the decedent’s will.

If we determine you’re eligible to file a lawsuit, we will study the details of your case to ensure it meets the criteria for a wrongful death lawsuit.

Utah defines a wrongful death as one caused by a “wrongful or negligent act of another.” To establish negligence, we will need to show evidence of the following:

  • The defendant (the person or entity you’re suing) had a duty of care, which usually means they had a duty to behave in a reasonably careful way to avoid hurting others. For example, a driver has a duty to follow traffic laws and pay attention to their surroundings when driving.
  • The defendant failed in their duty of care. As in our driving example, they might have been driving recklessly, run a red light, or failed to look carefully in both directions before turning onto a road.
  • The failed duty of care caused the death. Causation is one of the most critical aspects of your claim. For instance, we might demonstrate that the other driver ran a red light, causing their vehicle to crash into the decedent’s, and this impact caused the decedent’s fatal injuries.
  • You suffered damages as a result. These can be economic, like medical bills, funeral or burial expenses, lost income, and other financial deficits. They could also be non-economic, such as your own pain and suffering, loss of companionship or consortium, etc.

What to Do When an Estate Sues You For Wrongful Death

Call a lawyer immediately. Don’t wait or assume the claim has no merit.

Wrongful death claims usually involve high-dollar damages due to the loss of life and income, so you should take this seriously. If you don’t respond to the complaint in the allotted time (this should be included in the paperwork), the judge could enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

What Damages Can You Seek in a Wrongful Death Case?

Your lawyer will talk with you about any potential damages you might have to ensure nothing is missed. These may include:

  • Final medical bills. Any medical expenses related to the decedent’s final illness or injury should be included. Often, these are very expensive because the deceased was in such a serious condition.
  • Funeral or burial expenses. These can also be costly, and some families struggle or go into debt due to funeral bills.
  • Additional expenses incurred from the death. Sometimes, there are also indirect costs for the family. For example, if you lost your spouse, you may need to hire someone to help with childcare, housekeeping, or other tasks you shared with your spouse.
  • Lost income or earning potential. Many families are not only emotionally shattered by a family member’s death but also financially devastated. If the decedent was financially supporting you or other relatives, the loss of income can quickly lead to difficulty paying bills. We know that grieving a loss is hard enough without looking for a second job or spending less time with your family, so we will work to calculate the decedent’s projected future income if they had lived and seek to recover it from the defendant.
  • Non-economic damages. These include your own pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of companionship, guidance, care, and other benefits of a relationship.

Are Punitive Damages Awarded in Wrongful Death Cases?

In some situations, yes. Utah law allows for punitive damages in a wrongful death case if compensatory damages like those listed above have already been awarded.

You would also need to show that the defendant’s actions were not merely negligent but were the result of willful, malicious, or intentionally fraudulent conduct or a knowing and reckless disregard for others.

How Much Can You Expect a Wrongful Death Claim to Be Worth?

It depends on the value of all the damages listed above. Some of these have an exact amount printed on a bill, such as an invoice for funeral or cremation services.

Others we have to estimate, and these damages can vary based on several factors. Projected earning potential is one example—if your loved one was relatively young and expected to work for another twenty years or more, this will likely be a relatively high number.

If they were older and nearing retirement, the amount might be lower. But in both situations, their income at the time of their death will also strongly impact how much they would have earned.

If you want to find out exactly what your claim is worth, an experienced wrongful death attorney can help you calculate your damages.

What Kinds of Injuries or Accidents Can Lead to a Wrongful Death?

The manner of death is less important than the question of whether the death was caused by another party’s negligence or willful actions. However, here are some common situations that often result in wrongful death claims:

Motor Vehicle Accidents

These often involve cars, but we also see cases with trucks, motorcycles, and bicyclists or pedestrians hit by vehicles. If your loved one passed in an accident where another driver was at fault, you may have grounds for a wrongful death claim.

Off the highway, we also see cases involving boats or watercraft, golf carts, ATVs, plane crashes, and other transportation accidents. Again, the most crucial consideration is whether we can find evidence of another party’s negligence.

Premises Liability 

When a person dies due to an accident on another party’s property, we investigate to learn if the property owner was negligent in some way that caused the accident. These deaths can happen in a wide variety of ways, so even if you don’t see any sign of negligence, it’s a good idea to speak with a lawyer.

Here are a few examples of wrongful death situations that may occur on someone else’s premises:

  • The deceased died in an ATV accident on a neighbor’s land. We learn that the neighbor knew but failed to warn the decedent about a hazard on the property, such as an unexpected hole in the ground or an obstacle on one of the trails.
  • The deceased were in a mall when they tripped on a snagged carpet in the stairwell, and their subsequent fall down the stairs led to fatal injuries. Our investigation shows that the mall owners knew about the carpet for months but failed to repair it or even put out a sign warning guests to watch their steps.
  • The decedent was shot during a gas station robbery. We discover that the gas station had been robbed twice before in the past year. Still, the owner didn’t invest in a better security system or reasonable crime prevention efforts to keep employees and customers safe.

Medical Malpractice

If your loved one died while being treated for an illness or injury, it can be challenging to know if their death was an inevitable result of their condition or if their doctor made a mistake. If you know or suspect their doctor or another healthcare worker made an error that caused the death, please speak with a wrongful death attorney.

We will investigate to learn if the doctor’s actions were outside the standard of care for their specialty, which could indicate a wrongful death.

Defective Products

Sometimes, deaths that appear to be accidents are actually caused by defective products. For example, a defective Toyota floor mat that could get stuck under the gas pedal may have contributed to 89 deaths before it was recalled in 2010.

Of course, the problem may not be known to the public at the time the death occurs. If your loved one died in a puzzling accident, if the cause of the accident couldn’t be determined, or if the accident simply didn’t make sense, you may want to talk with a lawyer to learn if there was more to it.

Criminal Actions

Many people expect the criminal justice system to deal with criminals, especially those whose actions have led to death. However, we sometimes see situations where there isn’t enough evidence to arrest the perpetrator or to get a conviction in a trial.

As a result, we often meet people who are understandably upset that the person responsible for their family member’s death didn’t face any consequences in criminal court.

Is there anything else you can do? Possibly.

Criminal court requires a jury to find the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but this doesn’t extend to civil court, where it’s only necessary to find that the defendant is guilty “more likely than not.” Because of this lower burden of proof in civil court, we may be able to win a civil case even if a criminal conviction isn’t possible.

How Can You Get Help With Your Wrongful Death Case in Utah?

Please contact Valley Law Accident and Injury Lawyers for a free, confidential consultation to learn more about your options. We’ll review the details of your case and investigate further if necessary.

If we take your case, we won’t charge you anything until we win or settle it, so you don’t need to worry about paying for a lawyer upfront.

Attorney Brigham Richards is the founder of Valley Law. He graduated from Arizona State University’s law school and has been helping injured people and their families seek justice ever since.

He is also fluent in English and Spanish. Work with him and his team today by calling Valley Law at 801-810-9999.

Get in touch

Work with the team that cares

5255 S 4015 W Suite 207C,
SLC, UT, 84129, United States.

Call 24/7 801-810-9999

Directions Sign
Valley Law Accident & Injury Lawyers Logo

Book a Consultation

Find out why so many clients appreciate the amount of work we put into their case.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Brigham Richards
Receive top-tier legal guidance from a leading expert in the valley
Call to action

2021 and 2022 Gold Winner for Top Law Firm by Salt City Best


Call 24/7 801-810-9999