When a person is killed through negligence or intentional actions, their family can initiate a lawsuit for wrongful death. However, the specific person who is allowed to file this suit may vary depending on multiple factors, including which state the person who died (referred to as the decedent) lived, their marital status and their age, among others.
Individuals Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit
In general, multiple individuals in a family may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit, and in some cases, families can disagree about who should file the suit or may file multiple suits from a number of eligible family members. Courts typically only allow one lawsuit for a wrongful death case, so if family members file more than one, they are often combined into a single suit.
In some cases, family members and spouses will not be permitted to submit a wrongful death lawsuit, such as when the decedent’s estate falls into the administration of an executor. However, it is the executor’s responsibility to file the suit in these cases, so family members need not worry that the case will not proceed; rather, they will not have to manage it themselves, as it becomes the responsibility of the decedent’s executor.
Immediate Family Members
States allow immediate family members to bring a lawsuit against a person or company for wrongful death. Who elects to do this does not matter; what is most important is that the person bringing the suit can demonstrate that they are a member of the immediate family—that is, blood relatives as well as those related closely by marriage, such as a spouse or child adopted during the marriage.
While immediate family members may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against a negligent party, if the decedent was married, it is most common for the surviving spouse to be the one who initiates the lawsuit. It is this ability of both the spouse and the immediately family to file a suit that most often causes temporary confusion in the process until the lawsuit claims are combined by the court.
Parents Of Children
If the decedent in the case was a child under the age of 18 years old, it is most commonly the parent who brings the wrongful death lawsuit. The reason is that the parent is the one who has legal guardianship over the child; if another person was the decedent’s guardian, some states may allow that person to file a wrongful death suit instead. It is best to check your state’s specific regulations if you believe this caveat may apply to you.
Member Of A Civil Union Or Domestic Partnership
In states where civil unions and domestic partnerships are recognized, if the decedent and their partner are recognized to have fulfilled the criteria, then the partner may bring the wrongful death suit. This is not applicable in all states, so it is best to speak with a skilled attorney about whether this option would work for you if it may apply.
In cases where the person who was killed was not married or had no close, immediate family, some states may allow for more distant relatives to file the wrongful death lawsuit. These potential filers may include grandparents, aunts, uncles or siblings, depending upon the location in which the suit is filed.
What If The Victim Had A Will In Place?
Even if the decedent had immediate family or a spouse, that person is not always responsible for beginning the process of a wrongful death lawsuit if the victim had a will. In general, a will is carried out by an executor, or personal representative, not the family. If this is the case, the executor will take care of administering the estate, which includes filing a wrongful death lawsuit if required. In most states, when a will exists in the case of a wrongful death, the executor has the sole right to begin this type of lawsuit.
Reach Out To A Professional Wrongful Death Attorney
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit, you may be feeling overwhelmed or confused as you struggle to navigate the complex legal pathways of initiating the suit while also managing your grief over the loss of your loved one. The Brown Firm will ease this burden and assist you in taking the legal steps required to seek justice and financial compensation for your loved one’s death.
Our experienced wrongful death attorneys can sit down with you to review the available evidence and create a plan to help you receive the best result possible in your case. Reach out to discuss your situation and receive the justice your loved one deserves. You can contact us by phone at 703.828.0900. We look forward to hearing from you.