Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

January 7, 2024 | Jarrett Blakeley
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Losing a loved one in an unexpected accident is a devastating experience that can leave families not only grieving but also facing financial and emotional hardships. In such difficult times, understanding the legal options available is crucial. One such option is filing a wrongful death suit. This type of legal action seeks compensation for the losses related to the death of a family member due to someone else's negligence or intentional harm.

The best way to know your legal rights is to consult a wrongful death attorney near you immediately.

What is a Wrongful Death Suit?

A wrongful death suit is a legal avenue available for families who have lost a loved one due to the negligent or intentional actions of another party. At its core, this type of lawsuit is a mechanism to seek justice and compensation for the untimely death of a family member. It acknowledges that while no amount of money can truly compensate for the loss of a loved one, financial recovery can provide support to those left behind and help alleviate the economic strains that often accompany such a tragic event.

When someone files a wrongful death suit, it essentially claims that the deceased individual's death was a result of another party's wrongful act, whether due to negligence, recklessness, or intentional harm. The spectrum of scenarios where wrongful death can occur includes car accidents caused by another driver's negligence, medical malpractice resulting in a patient's death, workplace accidents due to unsafe conditions, or even intentional acts like homicide, among others.

The lawsuit seeks to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions, both morally and financially. The survivors of the deceased bring forth the legal claim, typically close family members or representatives of the deceased's estate. The objective is to recover damages that address the tangible and intangible losses related to the death.

Regarding tangible losses, the lawsuit often seeks compensation for the financial support the deceased might have provided if they had lived. This includes lost income, including what the deceased will have reasonably earned in the future, benefits, and the costs associated with funeral and burial services. These economic damages directly address the financial void the deceased's absence left.

On the more intangible side, wrongful death suits also recognize the profound personal loss experienced by the survivors. This includes compensation for emotional distress, loss of companionship, guidance, care, and affection that the deceased will have provided. For spouses and children of the deceased, this might include loss of consortium or the relationship's unique benefits and familial bond. For parents of a deceased child, it might involve compensation for the loss of the unique love and companionship children provide.

In cases where the actions leading to death were particularly egregious, they might seek punitive damages. They aren't linked to specific losses suffered by the family but aim to punish the wrongdoer for their conduct and act as a deterrent against similar actions.

An experienced wrongful death lawyer can guide and advocate to fully represent your family's rights and secure the compensation you deserve for your irreplaceable loss.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

The eligibility to file a wrongful death lawsuit varies by state, but there are commonalities in who is typically allowed to bring such a suit.

Immediate Family Members

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Immediate family members are often the primary claimants in wrongful death suits. This category typically includes spouses, children, and their parents in cases where the deceased was unmarried and childless. Spouses may seek compensation for the loss of companionship and financial support, while children might claim the loss of parental guidance and emotional support. Parents of unmarried, childless decedents can seek damages for the emotional pain of losing a child and, in some cases, for the financial support the child provided. The standing of immediate family members to file a wrongful death suit is widely recognized across most jurisdictions, reflecting the impact a death can have on a nuclear family.

Financial Dependents and Life Partners

Financial dependents and life partners also have a stake in wrongful death claims in some states. These claimants may include non-married partners, stepchildren, or anyone significantly reliant on the deceased for financial support. For instance, a long-term domestic partner who shared finances and living expenses with the deceased may have grounds to file a wrongful death suit, even if they were not legally married. Similarly, stepchildren who were financially supported by the deceased might be eligible to seek compensation, particularly if they were minors or depended on the deceased for their primary care and support.

Distant Family Members

More distant family members, such as siblings or grandparents, may also be eligible to file a wrongful death suit in certain situations. This usually requires demonstrating a direct impact from the loss, including financial dependence or a significant caregiving role. For example, if a sibling was financially or personally reliant on the deceased or grandparents were being cared for by the deceased, they might have grounds to file a suit. The inclusion of these family members acknowledges that the web of dependency and emotional bonds in a family can extend beyond the immediate nuclear family.

Personal Representatives

Personal representatives of the deceased's estate often play a role in wrongful death suits. In some jurisdictions, the personal representative, also known as the executor or administrator of the estate, is the only party allowed to file the wrongful death claim. They do so on behalf of the deceased's estate and the eligible beneficiaries. This approach centralizes the lawsuit, ensuring that damages awarded align with the deceased's will or the state's inheritance laws for distribution. The personal representative's role is particularly important in cases where the deceased did not have immediate family members or in scenarios involving complex family dynamics or disputes about the distribution of damages.

Understanding who is eligible to file such a claim is the first step in seeking justice and compensation for the untimely death of a loved one. In these emotionally charged and legally intricate situations, an experienced wrongful death attorney's guidance can ensure that the rights and interests of all affected parties are adequately represented and protected.

What Damages Can Be Recovered?

In a wrongful death suit, you can recover several different types of damages, including:

Economic Damages

In the context of a wrongful death suit, economic damages aim to provide monetary compensation for the quantifiable financial losses resulting from the deceased's untimely death. These damages are relatively objective, based on the deceased's financial contribution to their dependents or beneficiaries.

One of the primary components of economic damages is the loss of future earnings. This entails estimating how much the deceased will have earned in salary or income over their expected working life. Factors such as the deceased's age, occupation, work history, and projected career trajectory determine this figure. The calculation also considers benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings the deceased will have contributed to their family.

Another aspect of economic damages is the cost of medical care related to the deceased's final illness or injury and funeral and burial expenses. These costs can amount to a significant sum and are usually part of the total economic damages sought in the lawsuit.

Documentation such as employment records, tax returns, and medical and funeral bills is evidence of economic damages. Professional testimony from economists might also enlist financial analysts to precisely project future lost earnings and benefits.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages address the more subjective, non-monetary impacts of the death on the surviving family members. This category includes compensation for emotional distress, loss of companionship, love, care, guidance, and, in the case of a spouse, loss of consortium.

Emotional distress encompasses the psychological impact of the death on the survivors, such as grief, anxiety, and depression. Loss of companionship and guidance pertains to the absence of the deceased's emotional support and guidance, particularly important in the case of children losing a parent or individuals losing a life partner.

Loss of consortium, typically claimed by the surviving spouse, refers to losing the benefits of a family relationship, including affection, solace, comfort, companionship, society, assistance, and sexual relations.

Proving non-economic damages is inherently challenging due to their subjective nature. Testimony from family members, friends, and mental health professionals plays a role in demonstrating these losses. Journals, correspondence, and photographs may also demonstrate the relationship's depth and the loss's magnitude.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are unique in that they are not primarily about compensating the family for their loss. Yet, their focus lies in punishing the defendant for their misconduct and deterring similar future actions. These damages are applicable in cases where the defendant's actions that caused the death were not just negligent but egregiously reckless or intentional.

For example, families might seek punitive damages in cases involving a drunk driving fatality or situations where a company knowingly exposed workers to hazardous conditions or products. The key is that the behavior responsible for the death must go beyond mere negligence and enter the realm of gross misconduct or intentional harm.

The burden of proof for punitive damages is typically higher than for compensatory damages. It often requires clear and convincing evidence of the defendant's egregious conduct. This might involve a detailed investigation into the circumstances of the incident, including gathering evidence that shows malice, fraud, or gross negligence.

Wrongful death suits can be legally complex and emotionally taxing. Having a knowledgeable lawyer by your side is helpful in several ways:

Determining Eligibility

Determining eligibility is the first step where a lawyer's help comes into play. The laws governing who can file a wrongful death suit vary significantly from state to state. A lawyer will carefully evaluate your relationship with the deceased and examine state laws to determine your eligibility to file a claim. This assessment includes analyzing familial ties, financial dependencies, and the structure of the deceased's estate. In cases where multiple parties are eligible to file, a lawyer can guide how to proceed by representing individual claimants or working on behalf of the deceased's estate.

Gathering Evidence

Once they establish eligibility, gathering evidence is the next phase. A wrongful death lawsuit hinges on the ability to prove that the death was due to another party's negligence or intentional act. Lawyers are skilled at collecting and analyzing evidence, including medical records, accident reports, and eyewitness accounts. They often work with individuals focusing on forensics, medical professionals, and accident reconstruction specialists to build a compelling case. This evidence not only establishes the cause and circumstances of the death but also helps in quantifying the damages suffered by the family.

Negotiating with Insurance Companies

Negotiating with insurance companies is another area where lawyers provide valuable assistance. Insurance companies frequently aim to reduce accident claims, leading to drawn-out and contentious negotiations. An experienced lawyer understands the tactics used by these companies and can effectively negotiate to ensure that the family receives fair and just compensation. This often involves presenting a well-documented case to the insurers and being prepared to counter low settlement offers. Skilled negotiation can often result in a satisfactory settlement without needing a prolonged trial, which can be emotionally and financially taxing for the family.

Providing Compassionate Guidance

Providing compassionate guidance throughout the process is perhaps one of the most important roles of a wrongful death lawyer. The period following a loved one's death can be overwhelming, and adding a legal claim on top of the grieving process is an additional layer of stress. A lawyer offers legal advice and emotional support, guiding clients through each step of the process with empathy and understanding. They help make informed decisions by clearly explaining legal options and potential outcomes, ensuring that the family's rights and best interests are always at the forefront. This support allows the family to focus on healing and coping with their loss, knowing that competent and careful hands are managing their legal concerns.

Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer 

If you've lost a loved one due to someone else's negligence or intentional act, you need to understand your rights to file a wrongful death suit. This legal action can provide much-needed financial support and a sense of justice for your family. We encourage you to seek the assistance of a skilled personal injury lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who can guide you through this difficult process with the care you deserve.

Remember, in these trying times, you're not alone. Legal support is available during this challenging journey toward healing and closure. Contact a local wrongful death attorney as soon as possible.

Reach Out Today!

Jarrett Blakeley

Firm founder Jarrett Blakeley fights to get maximum compensation for all of Blakeley Law Firm’s clients. He has been practicing law since 2006 and takes great pride in representing the rights of injured individuals against the insurance companies and the law firms that represent them. He has successfully represented thousands of clients and recovered tens of millions of dollars on their behalf. Mr. Blakeley strives to give all of his clients personal attention and maximum effort and seeks to instill a firm culture that prioritizes customer service and compassion for the injured over all else. Fighting for the injured is Jarrett Blakeley’s greatest passion and he looks forward to fighting for the injured for the rest of his career.

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