Every farmer and rancher knows their business is dangerous, and even with the utmost care, accidents happen. When the accident is fatal a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit may not only affect the bottom line but can also bring emotional and social turmoil that a farming or ranching operation is not prepared for. Fatal accidents can happen anytime, but here in Nebraska and Iowa, these cases tend to occur more regularly during harvest season when farmers are working harder and faster and taking chances they probably wouldn’t take if they had more time. We have seen two wrongful death cases involving farming operations filed in Nebraska in the last two months. The most recent involved a man who was accidentally hit by a combine while the other involved a man who suffocated when engulfed in a grain bin. Read about them here and here.
The following is a list of five important details you should know about wrongful death cases in Nebraska and Iowa:
(1) In Nebraska and Iowa, wrongful death cases must be brought within 2 years of death.
(2) The wrongful death action is brought by a representative of the decedent’s estate for the exclusive benefit of the spouse, children or parents.
(3) Recovery is allowed for the the medical and funeral expenses resulting from the wrongful death plus any economic loss of the decedent’s services and support suffered by the spouse, children or parents. Parents may also recover for the loss of society, comfort, and companionship of a deceased minor child. Iowa allows recovery for the loss of society, comfort, and companionship of an adult child as well.
(4) Recovery is also allowed for pre-death pain and suffering the decedent incurred as a result of the accident. In Nebraska the claim for a pre-death pain and suffering is a separate claim from the wrongful death claim and can be filed within 4 years of the date of the accident.
(5) Mental suffering, bereavement, or solace of the widow or next of kin is generally not a recoverable damage.
Please realize the above 5 points are general rules with exceptions depending on the facts of circumstances of each case. Hopefully, as the reader, you never have to go through one of these lawsuits. However, if a fatal accident does occur in your farming or ranching operation you should call your attorney who can help prepare you for a possible suit.