Losing a loved one due to someone else’s negligence or wrongful actions can leave a family blindsided and devastated. Further, the emotional and financial burden of losing a family member can quickly become overwhelming. While monetary compensation cannot fill the void of a person, a wrongful death claim may be helpful to the surviving parties with respect to financial hardships arising from a loss.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

The purpose, process and compensation structure for wrongful death claims in Alberta is set out under the Fatal Accidents Act (the “Act”). Section 2 of the Act states that an action may be commenced when a person has died as a result of a “wrongful act, neglect or default that would, if death had not ensued, have entitled the injured party to maintain an action and recover damages.” 

Wrongful death claims can arise in various circumstances, including, but not limited to, an assault, a car accident, nursing home negligence, or medical malpractice.

Who Can Make a Claim?

Pursuant to the Act, a wrongful death claim may be brought by the executor or administrator of the deceased for the benefit of the affected family members, including a surviving child (including a grandchild or stepchild), a parent (including a grandparent or stepparent), spouse or interdependent partner. It is important to note that a spouse or interdependent adult partner cannot advance a wrongful death claim if they were living separately and apart from the deceased at the time of their death. 

All wrongful death claims must be brought under one action. Suppose there is no executor or estate administrator, or the executor or administrator has not commenced a wrongful death claim within one year from the date of the deceased’s death. In that case, family members who would benefit from the claim may bring the action on their own. 

The statutory limitation period rules under the Limitations Act apply to wrongful death claims; therefore, an action must generally be brought within two years from the date of the wrongful death.

Claims for Various Damages and Losses 

Surviving family members may make a claim for various damages and losses arising from wrongful death, including:

  • Bereavement;
  • Funeral expenses;
  • Grief counselling;
  • Loss of financial support;
  • Loss of household support and childcare; and
  • Out-of-pocket expenses. 

A claim for a loss of financial support may arise if the surviving spouse was a stay-at-home parent who relied on the deceased to provide for the family financially. When calculating a claim for loss of household support and childcare, it is important to note the number of hours per week that the deceased worked to complete various chores and maintenance. The hourly rate of such work is based on the amount it would cost to hire someone to do the same work. Out-of-pocket expenses may include the cost of care or travel for the deceased between the date of the injury and the time of death. 

Pursuant to section 8(2) of the Act, the bereavement benefits are payable as follows:

  • $82,000 to the spouse or interdependent adult partner of the deceased, 
  • $82,000 to the parent(s) of the deceased, with the caveat that the benefit is to be equally divided if a claim is brought for the benefit of both parents, and 
  • $49,000 to each child of the deceased.

However, it is important to be mindful that a claim under the Act is not automatically triggered in the event of a death. Instead, they are made against the at-fault (or negligent) party. Therefore, if the deceased was contributorily negligent, for example, they were not wearing their seatbelt at the time of the accident, or they were found to be partially at fault for an accident, the benefit may be adjusted accordingly. The amount of any statutory benefits payable under the Act is not, however, not affected by any other amount or benefit payable under an insurance policy.  

Wrongful Death as the Result of a Car Accident

If an individual’s death was due to a car accident, the deceased’s family members would often have two insurance policies available to them, which can provide financial assistance. The first policy will be derived from the vehicle in which the deceased was when the accident occurred. The second policy will come from the vehicle of the person who may be at fault for the accident, as long as they hold a valid insurance policy at the date of the accident. If the deceased was a passenger in a vehicle and the driver was found to be at fault for the accident, only one insurance policy would be accessible. 

Under an Alberta automobile insurance policy, the deceased’s vehicle will have Section B Benefits available. A subsection of Section B Benefits is called the “death benefit,” which provides a financial benefit to the surviving family members. The benefit amount depends on the deceased’s age and the relationship of the person(s) making a claim. Currently, the insurance policy also allows a claim for funeral expenses of up to $6,150 and a claim for grief counselling expenses of up to $500 per family member.

Contact the Lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP in Calgary for Advice on Wrongful Death Claims

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP acknowledge the trauma that loved ones may experience after losing a family member due to another person’s negligence. Left with unanswered questions, grief and financial pressures can quickly take over. Our team works to quickly gather the necessary information to commence a claim and can help ensure that those who have been affected by the wrongful death receive fair compensation. If you have questions about a wrongful death claim, contact us at 403-571-0555 or reach out to us online to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team.