Siblings can sue for wrongful death in many cases if their brother or sister passed away as a result of someone else’s negligent or willful acts. However, laws regarding who can file claims vary from state to state, so whether or not they have a right to file a claim depends on where the decedent lived. Siblings may wish to file a wrongful death suit for a number of reasons, particularly if they received financial or emotional support from the decedent.
Claimants can file a wrongful death claim even if the defendant also faced criminal charges in separate court proceedings. Because wrongful death involves civil proceedings or a dispute between two individuals, they do not have a bearing on the defendant’s criminal charges and vice versa. Regardless of whether or not the court found the defendant guilty of their crimes, a sibling may still wish to pursue a wrongful death claim to seek compensation for their losses.
States Determine if Siblings Can Sue for Wrongful Death
As an article in Law & Social Inquiry points out, tort law in the United States has evolved from allowing only wives and children of deceased husbands or men who lost the services of their servants, wives, or children to file a claim for wrongful death. The purpose for filing suit, the types of damages available, and the scope of loved ones who may benefit from the settlement has been broadened.
Certain states maintain that siblings have a right to sue for the wrongful death of their brother or sister, but the stipulations vary. Some have a hierarchy that allows spouses first access to a claim. If no spouse survives, the right passes to the children, then to the parents, then to the siblings, and so on. Others allow any family member or dependent who received financial support from the dependent to file a claim.
In states that do hold that siblings can sue for wrongful death, the siblings may constitute a large pool of potential plaintiffs in which anyone can file a claim. In these cases, the court often requires the consolidation of each separate wrongful death case into one, after which the parties can split the settlement.
Other Parties Who May Have a Legal Right to File a Claim
Most of the time, the decedent’s spouse or children will file a wrongful death claim. In addition to the fact that many states allow spouses and other family members to file wrongful death suits, those that require the executor of the estate will often fall on the surviving spouse, who the decedent will typically have listed as executor. If the decedent did not have a will, a surviving spouse usually qualifies to take the place of the executor before anyone else.
If the state requires that a representative from the estate file the wrongful death claim and the decedent did not have a spouse or a will, the court will offer the role to the next of kin. Some states limit the relatives who can pursue legal action in wrongful death cases, while others allow extended family such as cousins, aunts, uncles, and even unrelated dependents to file a claim. A lawyer can help you determine if you can file a wrongful death claim for your sibling in your state.
Types of Compensation for Wrongful Death
Wrongful death lawsuits vary based on the circumstances of the incident that led to the decedent’s death, the decedent’s income level and age, and other factors. Claimants often pursue compensation for the damages a victim could have received for their injuries had they survived, damages the decedent’s survivors accrued as a result of their death, or both.
The court considers economic damages those that they can measure and assign a set numerical value. These may include medical bills and other healthcare expenses, lost wages for the time the decedent missed at work after the incident and before their death, loss of future wages for the income the decedent would have earned had they survived, and the funeral and burial costs of the decedent.
When someone suffers an injury or loses their life as the result of another person’s negligence, they may qualify for non-economic damages, which refer to the compensation they may receive for their physical, mental, and emotional trauma. While no amount of financial recovery can resolve these issues on its own, the Center for Justice and Democracy points out the importance of allowing victims and their families to pursue non-economic damages.
Because most of the economic damages a loved one receives in a wrongful death claim result from the amount of income the decedent made, allowing only economic damages would essentially allow the court to place the value of the decedent’s life strictly on what they would have earned. This creates a system in which the lives of those who make more have a higher value, but non-economic damages can temper that inequity and help siblings and other loved ones who seek compensation for the loss of their family members pursue what they deserve.
How a Lawyer Can Help You Pursue Your Wrongful Death Case
If you lost a loved one due to someone else’s negligent or intentional act, you do not have to navigate the wrongful death claims process alone. At Ben Crump Law, PLLC, our lawyers will help you build your case and pursue just financial awards for your losses, and you do not owe us any fees unless we achieve compensation in your favor. Contact us today at (800) 593-3443 to discuss your case with our legal team.