When a person dies from the willful malice or negligence of another, the survivors may bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the perpetrator. The type of claim can be made regardless of whether or not the person is charged with any criminal act. In the case of O.J. Simpson, he was found not guilty of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. However, the families sued and won a suit against O.J. for wrongful death. You may have only heard of spouses or children of the deceased having the right to sue for wrongful death, but those aren’t the only people who may be able to sue.
Laws vary from state to state regarding who is allowed to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the person who lost their life. In all 50 states, immediate family members can file suit for wrongful death. Immediate family includes:
- adopted children
- parents of unmarried children
Typically, the surviving spouse, if applicable, will present the suit. Some states allow the child to file if they are of legal age. It is customary for parents to file the lawsuit if their young or unborn child is killed.
Laws vary regarding the rights of domestic or life partners. A domestic partnership could refer to same-sex partners who have not been legally married, or it may be divorced or widowed older couples who enter into a civil union instead of remarrying. The reasons for not remarrying may be due to family, social or financial pressures. The surviving partner may still be able to recover damages in some states.
In the case of the death of an unmarried adult, most states will allow other family members to file suit. Distant family such as grandparents, aunt, uncles and siblings by file for wrongful death damages on behalf of their deceased family member.
Some states allow those who were financially dependent on the decedent to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Financial dependents typically are parents, siblings and partners. However, in some cases, even roommates have been allowed to recover damages resulting from loss of financial support.
Executors or Representatives
If the deceased had a will, it might affect who has the right to file suit. If a will is in place, the court will legally appoint a representative or executor to settle the estate. The executor is generally the same one that was named in the will unless they are unable to perform the duties. In this case, only the legal representative of the estate has the right to file suit.
If you believe you have lost a loved one due to wrongful death, contact an experienced attorney.
Thanks to our friends at Cohen & Cohen, PC, for their insight into wrongful death claims.