Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

All states have specific rules about who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Laws differ somewhat by state, but this article provides an overview of who can file such lawsuits. If you have questions about specific state laws, please contact a wrongful death lawyer for more information.

Wrongful Death Claims Explained

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that tries to establish that a person or entity is liable for someone’s death. To do this, the plaintiff must show that negligence, recklessness, or intentional behavior caused the death.

Many personal injury cases, including slip and fall cases, car accidents, and medical malpractice, can be the reason to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

In essence, a wrongful death action is a personal injury lawsuit where the injured party is deceased. However, another party can take the place of the dead and pursue the legal claim.

Who May File

The statutes of the various states dictate who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. Particular time limits apply to each person who wants to file suit in court.

Some of the people who may file a wrongful death lawsuit could include the following:

  • Immediate members of the family, such as spouses and children
  • Parents of unmarried children
  • Life partners and financial dependents
  • Distant family members
  • Parents of a deceased fetus

Additionally, the state’s representative in some states may file the claim to recover some types of losses incurred by the estate. This is called a survival action.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

In most cases, the jury determines monetary damages in a wrongful death lawsuit, but a judge may perform this duty in some cases. The damages awarded in the legal action depend on case particulars. Generally, the plaintiff can seek the following damages:

  • Income, wages, commissions, and other compensation the person would have earned if they had survived.
  • Lost benefits, such as 401(k) and life insurance.
  • Loss of care, comfort, companionship, protection, and affection

Also, the representative of the estate can seek the following damages suffered by the estate:

  • Hospital, medical, and emergency care costs related to the person’s illness or injury
  • Funeral costs

In a few cases, families may seek punitive damages. These damages are awarded to punish the person whose reckless behavior led to the death. Punitive damages also discourage other people from engaging in similar reckless behavior.

Note that a wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action and differs from a criminal case. The federal or state prosecutor files the criminal case, and punishments include jail or prison time, fines, probation, etc.

The punishment in a wrongful death lawsuit is monetary only. A criminal case and wrongful death can be filed simultaneously. If the criminal case results in an innocent verdict, the wrongful death case still may find the accused liable for the death.

Time Limits to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Each state has a statute of limitations for when a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed. The statute of limitations varies, but it often is two years from the date of the person’s death.

It is essential to file the wrongful death lawsuit well before the statute of limitations expires. If you wait until the last moments to file the lawsuit, many experienced attorneys may not take the case.

Image: Wrongful Death Lawsuit via hafakot/Shutterstock

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