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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Posted By The Dunnion Law Firm || 17-Nov-2016

If someone close to you has died due to negligence or wrongdoing by another person, you might be wondering if you can file a wrongful death claim. Such lawsuits are designed to compensate loved ones of a deceased person who are impacted emotionally and financially from that person’s death. To learn if you can file a wrongful death lawsuit, it is helpful to take a look at the history behind this kind of litigation and how it fits into a modern context.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

The rules of wrongful death lawsuits vary by state, and exist to prevent a perpetrator from faring worse in court if a person is injured rather than killed as a result of wrongdoing. In the past, family members of the decedent, or person who died, could not file a civil suit for compensation against the person who caused the death.

These loved ones were, however, able to sue for damages if the victim was injured but survived, essentially making the consequences more lenient if the victim died. In order to provide a more fair and balanced system, states began to develop statutes allowing wrongful death lawsuits to take place. As a result, the rules differ depending on which state you’re in.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Fortunately, there are some similarities across many states as to who can file a wrongful death claim. Most states have designed wrongful death claim statutes based on Great Britain’s Lord Campbell’s Act of 1846. Statues designed with this Act in mind allow wrongful death suits to be filed only by beneficiaries designated by the statute. Typically, these beneficiaries have a close relationship with the deceased, like spouses or children.

Under this system, beneficiaries are separated into tiers, or classes, and the right to sue can depend on who exists in a given class at the time. If anyone is living in the first class, for example, only those beneficiaries in that class are allowed to file a suit. If no one is living in the first class, those in the second class, often relatives who are less closely related to the deceased, can file suit.

States that use this system often have similar lists of beneficiaries who qualify to file suit. These lists typically include:

  • Immediate family members like children, parents of unmarried children and spouses

  • Financial dependents who rely on the decedent’s income

  • Domestic partners

  • Parents of a deceased fetus

  • More distant family members like grandparents and siblings

While most states follow the Lord Campbell’s Act system, some states only allow the estate of the decedent to file a wrongful death claim. These lawsuits are usually filed by a representative of the deceased’s estate, a person appointed by the probate court to manage the estate’s assets. Any amount that the personal representative recovers in a suit is held in a trust to be disbursed among the decedent’s beneficiaries.

The Dunnion Law Firm Can Help

If you want to learn more about the wrongful death claim statutes in your state, it’s a good idea to contact an attorney. A professional attorney at Dunnion Law Firm can assist you with questions and concerns related to your specific situation. Contact us, today!