The relatives of a person who died due to another’s negligence or intentional acts might be able to sue for wrongful death, but state laws vary when it comes to who can file a lawsuit and when.
Some states allow family members to sue for wrongful death, while others permit only an executor or a personal representative to file a lawsuit on behalf of the estate to seek compensation in the person’s death.
Relatives Who Might Be Able to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
The spouse of a deceased person, the parents of a deceased minor child, and the minor children of a deceased parent might be able to file a wrongful death action. State laws differ when it comes to other relationships. For example, some states allow the parents of a deceased adult child to sue unless the victim had a spouse and/or children.
In some states, a victim’s sibling or unmarried romantic partner; distant relatives, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; and anyone else who was financially dependent on the victim or would have inherited money from the victim may pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. Other states have stricter laws on who may sue for compensation.
Some states’ laws prioritize wrongful death claims based on a plaintiff’s relationship to the victim. For instance, in some locations, lineal descendants, such as spouses and children, have the first opportunity to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If the victim did not have a spouse or children, his or her siblings might be allowed to sue.
In other cases, state laws give classes of relatives specific timeframes to take legal action. For example, a victim’s spouse may have one year from the date of the person’s death to file a wrongful death lawsuit. If he or she fails to do so, then the decedent’s children will have an opportunity to sue for compensation related to their parent’s death.
What Happens if Multiple Parties File Lawsuits
Courts will usually only allow one wrongful death lawsuit related to an individual’s death. If family members cannot agree on who should sue and two or more family members decide to file their own lawsuits, a court has the option of consolidating them into one lawsuit.
Types of Compensation You May Seek
Family members who sue in wrongful death cases usually seek compensation to recover the costs for medical care that their loved one received before their death. They also may seek financial rewards for the person’s pain and suffering and funeral and burial expenses.
In addition, they could receive payment for the loss of income that a family member would have earned had the person lived. Compensation could also recover:
- Loss of and inheritance
- Loss of services the decedent would have provided
- Loss of affection, companionship, guidance, and support from the decedent
Important Deadlines in Wrongful Death Cases
If your family member died because of someone else’s negligence or intentional actions, you might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit, but you have a limited time to do so. Each state has set a statute of limitations for wrongful death cases. If you fail to meet the deadline, you could lose your right to seek compensation, even if you have a valid claim.
Statutes of limitations vary from state to state, but the period is at least one year. The “clock” usually starts running from the date of the victim’s death, but it may be extended, or tolled, in some circumstances. While a year or more can seem like a long time, it can go quickly, as litigation can take some time.
You do not need to hire an attorney to represent your wrongful death case, but working with one will ensure you understand what the law is in your state and that your legal action is in by the deadline in civil court.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC, Works with Wrongful Death Cases
A wrongful death lawyer can explain the statute of limitations in your state and answer questions you have about other legal matters, such as who is permitted to sue for wrongful death in your state.
We might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the party responsible for your relative’s death so that you can seek compensation that could help your family take care of their financial needs and help you move forward. Call our office today at (800) 593-3443 to discuss your case with a member of our staff and learn more about how we may assist you.