What Is a Wrongful Death Claim? Who Can Bring This?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by a victim’s family when their loved one dies because of the negligence of another party (such as a car manufacturer). Damages, or compensation for the deceased’s survivors’ losses like lost wages, lost companionship and funeral costs are sought in wrongful death lawsuits.

Here’s a primer on wrongful death claims — what they are, who can sue and who can be sued…Now, it’s time to dig into our post.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

When someone dies because of the negligence or wrongdoing of another, a wrongful death claim can be filed. In recent decades, the concept of a wrongful death lawsuit has emerged. This type of lawsuit was prohibited under “common law,” or the laws that were imported to the United States from England.

However, the right to sue for a wrongful death was established by state and federal courts in the last century. There is now some form of wrongful death legislation in every one of the 50 states.

Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful Death Claim

Claims for wrongful death can arise from anything from the banalest automobile accidents to the most complex instances of medical malpractice or product liability. Negligence (the failure to act as a reasonable person would have acted) and intentional wrongdoing are both grounds for holding an individual, business or government agency legally liable for damages.

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Who Can Bring A Wrongful Death Claim?

Anyone who has been harmed by the decedent’s death can file a wrongful death claim on their behalf through a designated representative (they are called the “real parties in interest”). In most cases, the representative is also the executor of the estate. Depending on where you live, the “real parties in interest” may be different. Among them could be:

Immediate family members:

Wrongful death lawsuits are available in every U.S. state to surviving spouses, children and parents of minor children who were never married.

Life partners, financial dependents, and putative spouses:

A domestic or life partner, a dependent and a “putative spouse” (a person who had a good faith belief that he or she was married to the victim) may have a right to recovery in some states.

Distant family members:

Wrongful death claims can be filed in some states even by grandparents, great-grandparents and siblings. A grandparent who is raising their grandchild, for instance, might be able to file a lawsuit on the child’s behalf.

Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful Death Claim

All persons who suffer financially:

In some jurisdictions, a wrongful death claim can be filed by anyone who has suffered a financial loss as a result of the death, regardless of whether or not they were a blood relative.

Parents of a deceased fetus:

Wrongful death suits can be filed in some states if the fetus dies. There are a number of states where parents who have suffered the loss of a fetus cannot file a wrongful death suit to seek compensation for their suffering.

For parents in those jurisdictions, the only way to sue for wrongful death is if their child was born alive but later died. To find out if a wrongful death lawsuit is possible in your state, you should research the law and speak with a local attorney who specializes in such cases.

Who Can Be Held Liable for a Wrongful Death?

Almost anyone, including a business, government agency, or employee could be held legally responsible for a deceased person’s injuries or death in a wrongful death lawsuit. In the event of a fatal car accident caused by, say, a defective roadway and an intoxicated driver, the defendants in a wrongful death action could include:

  • The auto accident’s at-fault driver or employer
  • The person responsible for designing or building the flawed road
  • Somebody from the government should have known about the road hazard but didn’t and thus caused the accident
  • Anyone involved in creating a potentially hazardous automobile component, including but not limited to, the manufacturer, distributor, and installer.
  • Those who supplied alcohol to the driver who was later found to be intoxicated,
  • The proprietor of the establishment serves alcoholic beverages.

Immunity for Government Employees and Agencies

Some people or organizations may be exempt from liability in a wrongful death suit. Which means a wrongful death suit against them is out of the question. It is not consistent across states who are eligible for immunity again. For instance, in some cases, family members or government agencies may be exempt from liability in a wrongful death suit.

Wrongful Death Claim
Wrongful Death Claim

The federal government has recently passed laws that protect defendants from wrongful death lawsuits in cases involving railroad accidents and certain product liability lawsuits involving medical devices.

And in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled (in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co., Inc. v. Bartlett) that generic drug manufacturers are immune from personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits brought in state court due to the alleged “unreasonably dangerous” nature of a drug, provided that the FDA approved the original “name brand” drug and its labeling.

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