Wrongful Death Law in Oregon

Under the common law, there was no cause of action for wrongful death. This meant that when someone died by the act or omission of another person, no claim could be made.

For instance, a wife could not sue someone whose action led to the death of her husband, even though. He would have been able to sue if he had lived. This paradox existed until the legislature took action.

Statutory Remedy

Wrongful death actions were created by state legislatures to fix this legal loophole and to promote fairness. The problem under the common law was a tortfeasor (one who commits a wrongful act) was in a better position if the person they injured died than if they survived. It gave the appearance of rewarding the wrongdoer for the greater wrong.

The wrongful death law in Oregon is contained in the statute ORS 30.020. A “wrongful” death is defined as being caused by a “wrongful act or omission.”

This means the wrong can be a wrongful “act,” like driving a car while intoxicated, crashing into another vehicle and killing the occupant.

It can also be an “omission,” or the failure to perform some action, as in the case of a doctor who fails to treat a patient suffering from internal bleeding after undergoing surgery, which then results in the patient’s death.

Those Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The statute describes in complex language that spouses, children and parents may bring a lawsuit to recover damages in the event of the wrongful death of a loved one. If a person could obtain property through intestate succession from the decedent (sometimes a complex determination), they could also bring a wrongful death action.

The spouse, parent, or child is limited to the same legal recourse the decedent could have brought had they lived. And there is a three-year statute of limitation. This means the case must be filed before three years have elapsed, or the lawsuit is barred forever.

Damages Under the Act

The statute also lists the type of compensation or damages that may be recovered in this type of case:

  • Medical expenses and burial costs for the decedent.
  • Damages for disability, pain, suffering and loss of income for the period after the injury and before the decedent’s death.
  • Monetary losses to the decedent’s estate.
  • Compensation for the decedent’s spouse, children, stepchildren, stepparents and parents for any monetary loss and for loss of the society, companionship and services of the decedent.
  • Punitive damages, if applicable.

Bringing a wrongful death case can be a demanding and emotionally trying task for survivors; an attorney can discuss the facts of your situation to help you determine whether you have a viable wrongful death case and guide you through the process. We are happy to speak with you free of charge.