Seniors being denied care in a nursing home, a doctor prescribing the wrong drugs to a patient, a pedestrian struck in a hit-and-run accident; these are all scenarios that can culminate in a wrongful death and be the catalyst for a wrongful death lawsuit. In many ways, a wrongful death case is just like a personal injury case, except in for the unfortunate fact that the victim has not survived the injuries imposed.

A wrongful death suit in Oregon is a civil suit that seeks to atone for the losses endured by the victim’s family. A wrongful death is one that occurs due to the negligent actions of another. Unlike a criminal murder charge, which must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, families of victims can pursue wrongful death litigation as a civil suit to receive damages. In an Oregon wrongful death claim, lawyers only need to show a “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning that it was more likely than not that the defendant was at fault.

After a tragedy, families understandably may wish to grieve and refrain from taking legal action; however, filing a wrongful death claim in Oregon can have many advantages when a strong attorney is involved. For one, pursuing litigation through the civil justice system is usually the only way for victims and families to directly hold the defendant accountable.

Many questions are raised while making the decision of whether to pursue a civil lawsuit for the wrongful death of a loved one. We hope our answers to some of the most pressing concerns will help to clarify the topic.

How does Oregon define “wrongful death”?portland-or-at-dusk

In Oregon, the Oregon Revised Statutes Section 30.020 defines wrongful death as one that is caused by the “wrongful act or omission of another.” A wrongful act, or the omission of taking certain precautions, is typically negligent, reckless, or intentional. These are all the same factors used to support a personal injury case, which would be the proper course of action had the victim survived the injuries sustained. A wrongful death suit aims to recover for the losses endured by the victim plus losses endured by the victim’s family, who become victims themselves.

How much time do I have to file a claim?

Every civil suit invokes a statute of limitations. For a wrongful death, Oregon provides just three years after the first injury has taken place to file a lawsuit. This gets tricky because a person may spend a significant amount of time recovering or healing before the situation takes a turn for the worst and results in death. A victim may spend several months in a coma before passing from the injuries that triggered the coma, so a three-year time frame really is not much to work with.

Do I have to be the spouse of the victim in a wrongful death suit to pursue the suit?

Oregon extends the right to file a wrongful death claim to several parties because the person who was directly involved in the claim cannot file it on her behalf. The parties must be immediate family members of the deceased. Parents, children, siblings, and spouses are all eligible, including stepparents and/ or stepchildren.

What can a wrongful death suit change?

It is often argued that no amount of money can bring a loved one back after a wrongful death suit is successfully litigated. An award from such a suit, however, is intended to compensate the estate and surviving family members. It is difficult to put a price on pain and suffering, but all such suits start by considering the victim’s medical bill and funeral and burial expenses. From there, the victim’s lost wages, or what the victim would have earned had she survived, can be claimed as well as the pain and suffering she endured from the time of the accident to the time of her death.

In addition, victims’ families can receive compensation for the loss of care, companionship, and comfort provided by the victim. A husband can sue for the loss of companionship, a child for the loss of care and guidance that was endured from the untimely death of a mother. These are considered non-economic damages, for which Oregon is considering lifting a cap of $500,000.

Not every wrongful death suit will invoke punitive damages. Punitive damages can be awarded in cases where extreme negligence lead to the victim’s death. Once damages are awarded, they can be divided amongst the family according to the victim’s will or a judge may divide the settlement when no will exists.

Learn more about issues impacting safety, well-being and justice at To schedule a confidential appointment to discuss a claim with an attorney, call (503) 245-5677 or email