On April 3, 2014, the Nevada Supreme Court, in a 3-0 panel decision, ruled against the heir of a man who was fatally assaulted in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Following the incident, the man’s estate and three of his four children brought wrongful death actions against Wal-Mart. Thereafter, a fourth child brought a similar but separate action against Wal-Mart for his death.
The case went to trial on the claims of the estate and the three children with the jury finding that Wal-Mart was not negligent. Based on the jury’s ruling in that case, Wal-Mart moved to dismiss the fourth child’s action. The district court granted the motion, dismissing the fourth child’s claim.
The child’s attorneys appealed the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court asserting that dismissal was unwarranted under Nevada’s wrongful death statute.
Under that statute, NRS 41.085, “the heirs of the decedent and the personal representatives of the decedent may each maintain an action for damages” and that the causes of action “which arose out of the same wrongful act or neglect may be joined.” (Emphasis added.)
The attorneys argued that because each of the children had separate claims, a ruling in one case could not bar claims of the other children. The Nevada Supreme Court disagreed and upheld dismissal of the fourth child’s action citing the doctrine of issue preclusion.
What is Issue Preclusion?
Issue preclusion, also known as collateral estoppel, is a legal doctrine which prevents a person from relitigating an issue. It is applied to conserve judicial resources, maintain consistency, and avoid harassment or oppression of the adverse party. For this doctrine to apply, the following four elements must be met:
(1) the issue decided in the prior litigation must be identical to the issue presented in the current action;
(2) the initial ruling must have been on the merits and have become final;
(3) the party against whom the judgment is asserted must have been a party or in privity with a party to the prior litigation; and
(4) the issue was actually and necessarily litigated.
The Nevada Supreme Court Ruling
In holding that issue preclusion applied, the Court agreed with Wal-Mart’s assertion that because the child was a beneficiary of the estate, she was adequately represented in the estate’s litigation of Wal-Mart’s alleged negligence in the prior action. The Court went on to find that the other elements had also been met requiring affirmance of the dismissal.
This case illustrates the importance of carefully analyzing the impact that separate but related claims may have on subsequent cases. Examples cited by the Supreme Court suggest that the court may bar claims brought by the heirs of a decedent if the decedent had previously brought a claim against the defendant even if new evidence is subsequently discovered.
Statute of Limitation for Wrongful Death in Nevada
The statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuit in Nevada is two years from the date of the decedent’s death. However, if the claimant is a minor or an incapacitated person, the statute of limitations may be extended up to four years from the date of death in certain circumstances.
Furthermore, NRS 41.085 states that “if a cause of action arises out of an unintentional tort,” the statute of limitations is one year from the date of death. Therefore, it is important to determine which statute applies when bringing a wrongful death claim in Nevada.
Does insurance cover wrongful death in Nevada?
Most insurance policies in Nevada provide coverage for wrongful death claims. Generally, a wrongful death claim can be made under an insurance policy if the decedent’s death was caused by another person’s negligence or intentional act. Depending on the type of policy, coverage will usually include payments to cover medical and funeral expenses, lost wages, and other special damages that are considered compensable under Nevada law.
The Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling in this case underscores the importance of understanding when and how issue preclusion applies. It is also essential to be aware of the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims in Nevada, as well as any potential insurance coverage that may exist. When filing a wrongful death claim, it is important to review all applicable laws and regulations prior to taking legal action. Doing so will ensure that the claim is filed properly and in accordance with Nevada’s laws.
What compensation is available in a wrongful death case in Nevada?
In Nevada, the surviving family members of a decedent can recover many types of damages for wrongful death. These damages can include medical expenses incurred prior to death, funeral and burial expenses, loss of wages or benefits that would have been provided by the deceased person, pain and suffering endured due to the wrongful death, and financial losses associated with the death. Additionally, punitive damages may be awarded if malice or gross negligence is proven.
It is important for survivors of a wrongful death to understand their legal rights and the type of damages they may be able to recover. In addition to medical and funeral expenses, wage loss, and other out-of-pocket costs, survivors may also be eligible for pain and suffering damages. They may also be able to recover punitive damages if the death was caused by malice or gross negligence.
When filing a wrongful death claim in Nevada, it is important to understand how damages are calculated. Certain factors such as the age and earning potential of the deceased are taken into consideration. Additionally, courts will also look at the degree of negligence or recklessness that led to the death and any applicable insurance coverage when determining an appropriate amount of damages. It is essential to consult with a qualified attorney that can help identify the best course of action for recovery.
Shook & Stone: Your Personal Injury Attorney
Shook & Stone is one of the most respected law firms in Nevada. Our attorneys are experienced & dedicated advocates who are committed to providing our clients with the highest quality legal representation while protecting their rights and interests. Our wrongful death attorneys have handled hundreds of cases before, both at state and federal courts, as well as arbitration forums throughout the United States.
If your family has suffered a wrongful death as a result of another person’s negligent conduct, please give us a call to learn more about your rights. We offer free initial consultations and it won’t cost you a penny to see if we can help. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Alcantara ex rel. Alcantara v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 130 Nev. Adv. Op. 28, 321 P.3d 912, 919 (2014)