State laws on who may file a wrongful death lawsuit vary. Some states allow relatives to sue and others only permit an executor or a personal representative to take legal action on behalf of the decedent’s estate.
Who May Sue
Some states allow family members of a deceased individual to file a wrongful death lawsuit. However, laws differ on questions of who may sue and when.
A decedent’s surviving spouse and children may file a wrongful death lawsuit, and parents may sue for the death of a minor child, but laws vary when it comes to other familial relationships. For example, some states allow other family members, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents to file wrongful death lawsuits, while others limit that right to close relatives.
Some states let a decedent’s romantic partner file a wrongful death lawsuit, even if they were not married. Whereas other states only permit a decedent’s spouse to sue for a wrongful death. In some locations, any individual who was financially dependent on the decedent or who would have been entitled to an inheritance may file a wrongful death lawsuit, but others restrict the right to sue to family members.
In some states, relatives are divided into classes and ranked in terms of priority when it comes to filing a wrongful death lawsuit. For example, the decedent’s spouse may have a year to sue for compensation. If he or she does not do so within that time, the decedent’s children may then have the right to file a lawsuit.
When a Personal Representative May File a Lawsuit
Some state laws do not allow relatives to file wrongful death lawsuits at all. Instead, in a case involving a decedent who had a will, a court assigns an executor or a personal representative, which may be a person or a company, to handle the deceased person’s estate. In those situations, only the personal representative or executor may bring a wrongful death lawsuit. An award collected from a lawsuit may be used to pay medical bills and other expenses, and additional funds may be distributed to the decedent’s family members.
Types of Compensation Survivors May Receive
A wrongful death lawsuit can seek a financial award to cover medical bills for care that the decedent received before he or she died and for funeral and burial expenses, in addition to compensation for the decedent’s pain and suffering prior to death.
Relatives may also be entitled to compensation for the loss of income that their loved one would have earned if he or she had lived, the loss of an expected inheritance, and the loss of a relationship with the decedent. Some states also allow relatives of decedents to recover punitive damages in wrongful death cases.
Family Members May Bring a Lawsuit in Addition to Criminal Charges
A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil matter that is separate from any criminal charges that may have been filed. Relatives may be able to sue the person who caused a loved one’s death, even if the perpetrator has already faced criminal charges.
If the defendant was found not guilty at trial, family members may still be entitled to financial compensation. Since the burden of proof is higher in a criminal proceeding than in a civil matter, an attorney may be able to demonstrate that the defendant was liable for the decedent’s death, even if lawyers were unable to meet the higher burden of proof to secure a criminal conviction.
How a Wrongful Death Attorney Can Help
During this time, family members feel confused and overwhelmed, and it is very difficult to focus on filing a lawsuit while grieving your loved one. A wrongful death attorney can handle the legalities of your case, help you decide who is permitted to sue, what types of compensation a lawsuit can seek, and how the process works.
A lawyer can also discuss other important legal matters, such as the statute of limitations. The Legal Information Institute (LII) says this is the amount time you have to file a claim or lawsuit after an injury or in this case, a wrongful death.
The statute of limitations varies among states. If you do not take legal action within that window, you may lose the right to sue for compensation in the future, even if you have a legitimate claim and the person who caused your loved one’s death was clearly liable.
Contact Us Today
Ben Crump Law, PLLC has represented the families of decedents across the United States in wrongful death cases. Contact a wrongful death attorney about who has the right to file a wrongful death suit and how we may be able to help your family seek justice.