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Wrongful Death

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Protecting The Rights Of Families Filing Fatal Accident Claims

Have you lost loved one in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence? Is your family facing immediate and long-term financial concerns? You do not have to go through this difficult time on your own. An experienced lawyer can help you file a wrongful death claim, so you can protect your family and hold the guilty party accountable.

At Nicolet Law Accident & Injury Lawyers, our attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of families that have lost loved ones in accidents. A lot of unexpected challenges come with losing a loved one, and our attorneys will help you understand your rights and options as we fight for the compensation you deserve. We take the time to answer all of your question, and to make the legal process as stress-free as possible for you during this difficult time.

Putting Your Life Back Together

In Wisconsin and Minnesota, you can receive compensation for damages after an accidental death, but the damages are controlled and can be limited. We have successfully protected the rights of families filing wrongful death claims. Working with financial experts, we will conduct an investigation into the fatal accident and an occupational evaluation to understand the full financial impact of your loss.

In addition to your family’s financial losses, if your loved one had pain and suffering before death, we can pursue compensation for that as well.

A wide range of accidents can result in fatal injuries. With extensive personal injury experience, our firm is prepared to handle wrongful death claims involving many kinds of accidents, including:

  • Car accidents
  • Semi-truck accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents

It is always heartbreaking to lose a loved one. Losing someone due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct of another is even worse.

Death always feels wrong, but in certain circumstances, you may have a case for a wrongful death claim.

At one point in time the legal system did not permit wrongful death claims. Under common law, a deceased person was the victim but was not able to bring a lawsuit. Since there was no victim to bring the claim, there was no case because the claim died with the decedent.

Eventually, the judicial system recognized that these deaths affect the victim’s loved ones. Therefore, the law began to allow families to file wrongful death claims to obtain compensation for their loss.

According to the CDC, there were 173,040 unintentional deaths in 2018. Each of these deaths leaves the family suffering because of the loss. If the decedent was the primary financial support for the family, they might consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the person or entity responsible for the death.

Wrongful death law in Wisconsin

Wrongful death lawsuits are a part of civil law, and each state has different laws concerning wrongful death claims. According to Wisconsin law, wrongful death is caused by another party’s “wrongful act, neglect or default.”

Wrongful death law applies to situations in which the deceased could have filed a personal injury lawsuit if they had survived. Of course, the deceased person cannot file a personal injury claim, but specific other people can.

Wrongful death vs. a survival action in Wisconsin

People often confuse wrongful death with a survival action. In a wrongful death action, the plaintiff is seeking compensation on behalf of close family members of the deceased. However, a survival action arises from the suffering of the decedent rather than the grief and financial losses of the family.

The decedent’s estate may recover damages resulting from the pain and suffering of the victim, as well as their medical expenses and lost wages. It focuses on the injury suffered by the deceased person, analogous to what the person could have recovered in a personal injury lawsuit if he or she had survived.

A critical difference between the two claims is that in a survival claim, damages are paid to the deceased person’s estate rather than directly paid to surviving family members.

Common causes of wrongful death lawsuits

As with other types of personal injury cases, many types of events or actions can lead to a wrongful death lawsuit, including:

Motor vehicle accidents

Data from the National Safety Council shows that an estimated 42,060 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020. That reflects an 8 percent increase over 2019, which is shocking considering that many people drove less due to the pandemic. Motor vehicle accidents often cause catastrophic brain, spinal, and internal organ damage that leads to death.

Premises liability

Property owners, residents, and tenants of property (both residential and commercial) owe a duty to keep their property in a safe condition. When they fail to correct hazardous conditions or to warn visitors of dangers adequately, they may be liable for accidents and injuries that occur on their property. Premises liability often causes tragic deaths, such as animal attacks, children drowning in swimming pools, and individuals injured in unsecured construction sites.

Drowning or boating accidents

Most people love swimming, boating, or other water sports. However, any body of water, whether it is a swimming pool, a lake, or an ocean, can be a risk. The water is especially hazardous for those who do not know how to swim, do not understand the dangers of currents or extremely cold water.

In many cases, people trust their safety to others, such as the person operating the boat. A person who is responsible for the safety of others and is negligent may be liable.

Workplace accidents

Worksites are often dangerous places. Construction workers labor at great heights or operate large and dangerous tools and equipment. Nurses and even office workers may suffer injuries from heavy lifting, long-term toxic exposures, repetitive stress injuries, and burns.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employer-Related Workplace Injuries and Illnesses News Release, published on November 4, 2020, there were 2.8 injuries per 100 full-time workers. Workers’ compensation may cover workers and their families in the case of a workplace fatality.

Who can you pursue for wrongful death compensation?

Any person or entity (including a government entity) that caused someone’s death due to negligence or an intentional act may be liable for wrongful death. In some cases, there may be more than one person or entity responsible.

However, frequently there is more than one person or entity liable for the wrongful death.

For example, if the fatality resulted from a motor vehicle accident, responsible parties may include:

  • Negligent drivers involved in car accidents
  • The car or truck manufacturers whose defective product caused a mechanical failure which led to a fatal accident
  • Government entities whose poorly designed, constructed, or maintained roads cause fatal accidents.
  • The trucking company that is responsible for hiring and training the drivers
  • The truck owner or maintenance company responsible for keeping the truck in safe operating condition
  • Those responsible for safely loading cargo

Fatalities happen in many places and under all kinds of circumstances. Other possible responsible parties may include hospitals, nursing homes, daycare businesses or childcare workers, manufacturers, or distributors. In the case of an airplane crash, the pilot or airline may have been negligent, the plane may have malfunctioned, there may have been a defective component, or unsafe airport conditions may have caused the death.

Who can file a wrongful death lawsuit in Wisconsin?

Wrongful death claims can be confusing because the person who files the claim may not necessarily be the same person or people who benefit from the lawsuit. According to the Wisconsin State Legislature: “An action for wrongful death may be brought by the personal representative of the deceased person or by the person to whom the amount recovered belongs.”

A personal representative (sometimes called an executor) is the individual responsible for administering the decedent’s estate. It may be someone named in the decedent’s will or appointed by the probate court. It may be a family member or someone not related to the deceased.

Also, certain surviving family members can file a wrongful death claim. They are:

  • The deceased’s spouse or domestic partner
  • The deceased’s children or grandchildren
  • The deceased’s parents
  • The deceased’s grandparents, and
  • The deceased’s siblings.

Regardless of who files the wrongful death claim, if the deceased person left a spouse or domestic partner and one or more minor children, the court must set aside a portion of any damages awarded for the care of the children. The court determines the amount of the portion to be set aside.

It bases this decision on many factors, including:

  • The age of such children,
  • The amount involved,
  • The capacity and integrity of the surviving spouse, and
  • Any other facts or information it may have or receive.

However, the amount cannot be more than 50 percent of the total damages award.

Proving wrongful death

Most wrongful death actions are based on negligence, which means “A failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.”

Negligence usually consists of actions, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but it can also mean an omission as long as there is a duty of care. For example, a property owner who fails to repair or warn of a dangerous condition may be negligent.

Wrongful death claims must be supported by proof. A burden of proof is the amount of evidence you must present in support of your wrongful death claim. Every case is unique, but the burden of proof is on the person who files the lawsuit (the plaintiff.)

The burden of proof in a wrongful death case is different from the burden of proof in a criminal case. In civil court, the burden of proof for a wrongful death claim is the preponderance of the evidence, which means proving to the judge or jury that there is a 50 percent or greater chance that the defendant caused the injury alleged in the lawsuit.

For example, to meet this burden of proof in a case based on negligence, the plaintiff must show the same basic elements as those in a personal injury lawsuit:

  • The person or entity responsible was negligent
  • The negligence directly caused the death
  • The death harmed surviving family members

Even in cases where fault seems to be obvious, proving negligence requires evidence, such as:

  • Eyewitness statements
  • Reports from law enforcement officers
  • Photos, videos, or other physical evidence from the accident scene
  • Medical records
  • Expert testimony
  • Any other evidence, including truck driver’s logs, maintenance logs, or an Event Data Recorder (EDR) that records data about a truck’s operation immediately before, during, and after a crash.

Not all wrongful death cases are the result of negligence. Some arise from acts of intentional violence.

The elements to prove an intentional act are specific:

  • The person had the intent to commit the act;
  • The person made non-consensual contact with the victim, such as using a weapon or hitting someone with a car; and
  • The contact caused the death.

Another important part of the proof is establishing the value of your losses. Proof of damages is essential because the insurance company will be doing everything possible to minimize or deny the amount of your claim.

Evidence of losses may include:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral expenses
  • Employment records
  • Tax returns & other financial statements
  • Personal testimony and physical evidence


When a wrongful death has occurred, the surviving family members need and deserve compensation, also known as damages. The person who brings the action, whether personal representative or family member, may recover the reasonable cost of medical expenses and funeral expenses, either on their own behalf or on behalf of any person who has paid or assumed liability for such expenses.

Pecuniary damages in a wrongful death lawsuit may include compensation for:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost financial contributions and/or inheritance
  • Funeral/burial expenses

The decedent’s spouse, children, parents, or siblings who were minors at the time of the death may receive damages for loss of companionship and society. In Wisconsin, certain limits exist on noneconomic damages, such as emotional pain and suffering or loss of society and companionship. These damages cannot exceed $500,000 in the death of minors and $350,000 in the death of adults.

Statute of limitations

Like all states, Wisconsin has strict deadlines for filing lawsuits, called statutes of limitations. If you miss the deadline, you may be barred from filing a lawsuit. Therefore, it is vitally important to consult an attorney as soon as possible so that you do not miss the correct deadline for your claim.

The wrongful death of a loved one is emotionally devastating and may leave you facing an uncertain financial future. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you are probably facing many personal and economic challenges, but you are not alone. Your attorney can explain your legal options, protect your rights and guide you through the legal process.

Hold Those Who Caused The Wrongful Death Of Your Loved One Accountable

Russell Nicolet
Wrongful Death, Russell Nicolet

With so many financial concerns on your plate, the last thing you want to worry about is legal fees. We handle all wrongful death claims on a contingency basis so you do not have to pay anything upfront. With offices in Eau Claire, Hudson, Woodbury, and throughout the region, we protect families across Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation with our injury law attorneys.

Client Testimonials

Review: 5/5
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“Team Nicolet were absolutely fantastic in the handling of my personal injury case. Russell and his team had an answer to every question I had - I always felt like I was being kept in the loop, that my case and well being were important to them and that they always had my best interest at heart. To add, Russell as well as being extremely professional is also also very personable - through a very turbulent time in my life I always found him to be very approachable, honest and with a huge amount of integrity!”
Review by: Matthew Roe.

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Nicolet Law Office is honored to have been nominated for numerous awards for excellence in service and client satisfaction. Our attorneys have appeared in such prestigious lists as Top 40 Under 40 and Rising Stars. While we’re thankful to have the support of industry peers and independent third-party organizations, nothing beats the feeling of gratitude we share with clients when we can make a positive impact on their lives.

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Contact us today to request a free case evaluation with a dedicated local attorney. With twelve convenient office locations throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, accessing award-winning legal services has never been easier. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from traveling, we would be happy to meet you at your home or schedule a private virtual consultation.


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12 locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota to serve you

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Wisconsin Locations:


402 Graham Ave.
Suite 305
Eau Claire, WI 54701

Phone: (715) 835-5959
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517 2nd Street
Unit #205
Hudson, WI 54016

Phone: 715-226-6158
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119 N 19th St S
La Crosse, WI 54601

Phone: 608-527-0876
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1500 Madison Ave.
Suite 220
New Richmond, WI 54017

Phone: 715-226-6164
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337 North Main Street
Rice Lake, WI 54868

Phone: (715) 790-1114
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215 S 2nd St #20
River Falls, WI 54022

Phone: (715) 716-5869
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1200 Tower Ave.
Superior, WI 54880

Phone: (715) 718-2969
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408 3rd Street
Suite 303
Wausau, WI 54403

Phone: (715) 716-5092
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Minnesota Locations:

306 West Superior Street,
Suite 606 West
Duluth, MN 55802

Phone: (218) 729-0628
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Howard Court Bldg.
302 Howard Street, Suite 123
Hibbing, MN 55746

Phone: 218-217-0659
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225 South 6th Street
Suite 3800
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Phone: (612) 446-3999
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724 Bielenberg Drive
Suite 126
Woodbury, MN 55125

Phone: (651) 815-0017
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