Can a Family Sue for Wrongful Death?

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If you lost a loved one through a deliberate act or a preventable act, you may be able to file a lawsuit. However, who can file, how much compensation you may be able to get, and whether or not you can file at all will depend on your state’s laws.

Wrongful death lawsuits are meant to provide compensation for economic and non-economic damages that were caused as the result of another person’s actions. The economic damages may include:

  • The loss of your deceased loved one’s financial support
  • The cost of household services your loved one can no longer provide
  • Expenses related to the funeral service and burial
  • Any medical bills if hospitalization was involved
  • The cost of emergency transportation
  • The loss of any benefits you expected to receive from your loved one

Some of the non-economic damages you may be able to recover include loss of affection, companionship, and a sexual relationship. Children may be able to recover damages for the loss of moral support, attention, and guidance.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Surviving spouses, children, and other family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In most states, you must be related to the deceased to a specific degree if you want to sue. Certain states allow any family member who would have benefited financially from the deceased to file a claim.

Your state may allow multiple family members to file a suit but treat certain relatives with higher priority. An example of this would be the spouse, children, or parents of the deceased being able to sue first, but if there are no surviving relatives in this category, other family members such as siblings or nieces and nephews may then be able to sue.

About Personal Representatives

Many states require a personal representative to file a wrongful death claim. This is more commonly known as an “executor.” This can be a member of the family or a company that is responsible for managing the deceased’s estate. The executor would file the suit and would then be responsible for distributing the settlement.

The personal representative distributes assets between the court and the surviving family members. They may represent the estate of the deceased or, in some cases, be direct representatives of the deceased’s family members.

How Much Can You Get in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

No amount of money will ease your heartache after a loved one has died, but if you are entitled to compensation it is your right to pursue it. Obviously, there is no amount of money that will bring your loved one back, but a lawsuit will hold the responsible party accountable and ease your financial suffering after losing your loved one’s financial support.

It can be difficult to calculate economic and non-economic damages, and because of this, there is no “average” settlement amount. These losses are intangible because no one knows what the future may hold, and that includes how much money the deceased could have made were they still alive. Your lawyer will use their age, education, and salary history to determine a figure.

The following are some of the questions you’ll want to ask your attorney:

  • Is there a cap on wrongful death?
  • What is the statute of limitations in my state?
  • Who should file the lawsuit?
  • What can I expect to happen during the process?
  • Will I have to pay taxes on the settlement money?

How Are Wrongful Death Settlements Paid Out?

In the vast majority of cases, the responsible party’s liability insurance provider will pay the damages from a wrongful death lawsuit. If the defendant didn’t have liability insurance or their insurance isn’t sufficient to cover all of the damages, they will then be personally responsible for paying you.

Who is paid out, and in which order, will be determined according to the laws of interstate succession. The surviving spouse, if there was one, will receive at least one-third of the estate, with the rest being divided equally among any surviving children. If there is a surviving spouse and there are not any children, that spouse would be entitled to the entire settlement.

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