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Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?

This content about wrongful death was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.

When the death of a person is a consequence of another person’s or entity’s fault (like a company, for example), the deceased’s family might be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. These lawsuits aim to recover damages (compensation, usually monetary) for the survivor’s family losses, such as loss of companionship, benefits, lost wages, and funeral expenses.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

When somebody’s death is due to the legal fault of another person, a wrongful death claim can be filed. This concept is relatively new, but it gained traction during the last century, as federal courts also recognized the right to submit a wrongful death action. 

Currently, each state has a law that allows for wrongful death lawsuits. Every state also has a different set of rules as to how to approach the case, file it, and who may receive damages from it, among other details that vary from one state to another.

Wrongful death claims can be brought for (but are not limited to) all types of accidents or misconduct that resulted in the death of someone, from product liability cases, and complex medical malpractice, to civil rights cases, to simple car accidents. 

Government agencies, companies, and people can be sued if they are legally responsible for acts of negligence or violations of rights that caused a person’s death.

Who May Sue for Wrongful Death?

This type of lawsuit must be filed by individual family members or by a representative on behalf of the deceased’s surviving family, who may seek to recover damages brought by the deceased’s death. 

In some states, Executors of the decedent’s estate are the ones who serve as representatives for wrongful death cases.  (In California, certain close family members can bring a wrongful death claim individually).

Those represented by the Executor, often the surviving family of the deceased, are called the “real parties in interest” and can vary from one state to another. Usually, they include: 

Immediate family members— In all states, the immediate family members of the deceased, like children (including adopted children), spouses, and parents of unmarried children can bring wrongful death actions.

Life partners, putative spouses, and financial dependents— depending on the state, the following have a right of recovery:  

  • Life partner 
  • Domestic partner 
  • People who were financially dependent on the deceased 

“Putative spouse” (defined by Cornell Law School’s Legal encyclopedia as a “person who enters into a bigamous marriage believing in good faith that it is a valid marriage” meaning the person “is unaware his spouse is already married”). 

Distant family members— Some states allow brothers, sisters, and grandparents, to file for wrongful death lawsuits. For example, a grandparent that is raising a child could bring legal action.

All persons who suffer financially— there are states that also allow for all the persons that are financially affected by the death to bring a wrongful death action and seek compensation for lost care or support, even if they are not related to the victim by marriage or blood.

Parents of a deceased fetus— In a few states, causing the death of a fetus can serve as the basis for a wrongful death suit. In most states, parents can’t file a legal action to recover for financial and emotional losses for this specific case. However, the parents could bring a wrongful death suit if the child was born alive and then died. 

Sources:

Putative Spouse Doctrine | Law Cornell 

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death? – Nolo 

Haddad & Sherwin LLP has a long, successful track record winning wrongful death and other serious civil rights claims for police and jail officer misconduct, throughout Northern and Central California.  Call or email us for a free consultation.

This content about wrongful death was written by a third party and does not represent the views or opinions of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, nor should it be construed as a complete and accurate statement of the law or as legal advice.  For better information about this topic, please contact Haddad & Sherwin LLP.