A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit that can be filed against a person or entity who wrongfully caused someone’s death. “Wrongfully” in this context usually means recklessly, or negligently, but it can also include intentional criminal acts such as murder.
WHO CAN FILE A WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT?
The deceased cannot bring forth the lawsuit themselves, so it is often filed on their behalf by their estate, or by immediate family members who have been directly impacted by the wrongful death. Who can and can’t bring forth a wrongful death claim differs from state to state, but in general, wrongful death claims can be brought by:
- Immediate Family Members, including children and parents
- Distant Family Members (if there are not immediate family members), including grandparents, siblings, aunts/uncles.
- The Surviving Spouse
- Personal Representative of the deceased’s Estate
But what about a relationship that is not as legally legible?
In general, domestic partners do not have the same sort of legal relationship as the family members listed above and are therefore unable to recover wrongful death claims. The exception to this rule are states that allow common law marriages and/or domestic partners to register. If a couple has registered their domestic partner relationship BEFORE death, the state is much more likely to treat them as a married couple and the surviving partner as a surviving spouse.
PROVING THE RELATIONSHIP
If registering a common law marriage or domestic partnership is not an option, the surviving partner may be asked to testify about their relationship with the decedent. Other witnesses, such as the decedent’s immediate family members, may also be called to testify on the partner’s relationship with the deceased. The court will then take this testimony into consideration to determine if the surviving partner had a close enough personal relationship to the decedent to be awarded damages in a wrongful death claim.
AN ATTORNEY CAN HELP
Filing a wrongful death claim can be difficult on those who just lost a loved one. It can also be extremely complicated and confusing. Keep in mind that many states place statutes of limitation on wrongful death lawsuits, which means you may only have a certain window of time to file. The best chance of determining whether you are eligible to bring a wrongful death claim is to hire an experienced wrongful death attorney.
If you’ve lost a loved one to someone else’s negligent or intentional acts, consider speaking with one of the experienced wrongful death attorneys at Kamper Estrada, LLP. In a free initial consultation, they can help you decide if seeking a wrongful death claim is the right option for you.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Kamper Estrada, LLP for their insight into wrongful death cases.