Recovering from Wrongful Death Lawsuit
What is a Wrongful Death Claim?
When someone is injured through the negligent or intentional acts of another, that person has the right to seek monetary compensation or damages. What happens when the incident results in that individual's death? Long ago, the liable party faced jail time but didn't have to worry about paying damages. While the deceased individual couldn't claim damages, his or her family was left suffering a financial burden as well as the emotional loss. Some more immoral people used this to their advantage. They realized that, while murder would result in more incarceration, it would save them from having to pay out on a personal injury claim. This situation prompted lawmakers to address the flaw in our system.
Today, our laws provide a method of seeking damages in such a case by filing a wrongful death claim - a particular personal injury lawsuit in which the victim's representative died on his or her behalf. Any damages awarded in the wrongful death claim would be distributed to beneficiaries per the decedent's will. In this way, the family receives compensation for their loss to help them cope with the financial costs caused by the wrongful death.
While this sounds simple, a wrongful death claim can become very complicated. First, only certain people can serve as a personal representative and, sometimes, the deceased party doesn't have a will. There are also specific factors that make up a wrongful death claim and failing to meet even one element can compromise your case. While you may never have to file a wrongful death claim, it's important to understand how the process works and how these obstacles can be overcome. This overview can prepare you if you do lose a loved one through the fault of another.
Who is Eligible to Sue for Wrongful Death?
As previously mentioned, the personal representative is often designated in the deceased party's will. While this person is chosen to represent the decedent, he or she also represents that person's family members. The family is said to be represented because they will be the ones to receive the settlement or award. Allowing the entire family to file the wrongful death lawsuit can complicate the situation, so just one individual is chosen to act on the family's behalf.
What happens if there is no will? In this case, members of the family will petition the court to allow them to act as the personal representative. This option isn't open to everyone in the family, and each state has its laws to determine which people can serve as the representative. Typically, the representative can be any of the following individuals:
- Adopted children
- Parents of unmarried adult children
- Parents of minor children
Some states have added to this list, allowing other family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Grandparents, adult siblings, and some other family members may qualify. As relationships change, the laws also vary, so it's essential to consult a wrongful death attorney about the laws in your area to determine if an unmarried partner can also qualify. Some states allow this, while others do not.
The parents of a deceased fetus may also be permitted to file a wrongful death claim.
For most states, the general rule of thumb is that anyone who has been caused a financial burden by the loss may file a claim. One example might be an elderly aunt needing adult care that the now-deceased individual paid to provide.