An Overview of Wrongful Death Claims

Survivors of someone who died as a result of the fault of another person or business, such as a car manufacturer, may be eligible to file a wrongful death case. Wrongful death cases seek damages, or remuneration for the loss suffered by the survivors, such as lost wages, companionship, and burial costs. Here’s a brief overview of wrongful death lawsuits, including what they are, who can file them, and who can be sued. 

What Is a Claim for Wrongful Death? 

When a person dies as a result of another person’s legal fault, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed. The ability to launch a wrongful death lawsuit is a relatively recent concept. This type of lawsuit was not permitted under “common law” — the laws imported to the United States from England. However, state and federal courts established the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit within the last century. Every state in the United States now has a wrongful death statute. 

Wrongful death lawsuits cover a wide range of deadly occurrences, from minor vehicle accidents to complex medical malpractice or product liability cases. Individuals, businesses, and government agencies can be held legally liable for acting negligently or purposefully. A skilled wrongful death attorney can help navigate these critical issues.

Who Can File a Lawsuit for Wrongful Death? 

A representative must submit a wrongful death claim on behalf of the survivors who have been harmed by the decedent’s death — they are called the “real parties in interest”. The executor of the decedent’s estate is usually the representative. State-by-state, the “actual parties in interest” differ. Some of these people could be: 

  • Members of one’s immediate family. Immediate family members, such as spouses and children — including adopted children — as well as parents of unmarried children, are entitled to compensation in all states. 
  • Putative spouses, life partners, and financial dependents A domestic or life partner, anyone who was financially reliant on the dead, and a “putative spouse,” defined as a person who had a good faith conviction that he or she was married to the victim, may be entitled to compensation in some states. 
  • Family members who live far away. More distant family members, such as brothers, sisters, and grandparents, may be able to file wrongful death lawsuits in some states. A grandparent parenting a child, for example, might be allowed to file a lawsuit. 
  • Those who are financially disadvantaged, even if not blood related or were married to the dead, several jurisdictions enable anybody who suffers financially as a result of the death to file a wrongful death lawsuit for lost care or support. 
  • Parents of a fetus who died during pregnancy. A wrongful death action can be filed in some states based on the death of a fetus. Parents in some other states are barred from pursuing a wrongful death claim for financial and emotional losses caused by the death of a fetus. Only if the child was born alive and then died can the parents file a wrongful death lawsuit in those states. To find out if such an action is permissible in your state, check your state law and speak with an expert wrongful death attorney. 

Who Can Be Held Liable for a Death Caused by Negligence? 

Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed against a wide range of parties, including individuals, businesses, government organizations, and employees. Consider a case of a car accident caused by a poor roadway and a drunk driver, a wrongful death action might name defendants such as the at-fault driver or employer, the designer or builder of the faulty roadway, a government agent who failed to provide adequate warnings regarding a road hazard that caused the accident, the manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty or dangerous part of the vehicle, and the people who sold, served, or gave the vehicle to the victim. 

Immunity for Government Employees and Agencies 

Certain people or organizations may be exempt from wrongful death lawsuits in some instances. They can’t be sued for wrongful death because of this. Again, who is eligible for immunity differs from state to state. For example, government entities and personnel, as well as family members in certain circumstances, may be exempt from wrongful death lawsuits. 

Recent federal laws grant defendants in railroad incidents and some product liability lawsuits involving medical devices protection from wrongful death claims. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Mutual Pharmaceutical Co. v. Bartlett that generic drug manufacturers cannot be held liable in state court personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits based on the alleged “unreasonably dangerous” nature of a drug because the FDA approved the original “name brand” drug and its labeling.