What is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit and Who Can File?

Losing a loved one is hard enough in itself. It can be even more traumatic if that person’s death was caused by someone else’s negligence.

A wrongful death lawsuit allows a deceased individual’s family and/or estate to pursue compensation from the negligent party. A verdict for the plaintiff(s) can help the family manage expenses related to their loved one’s passing as they try to rebuild their lives.

You May Have a Wrongful Death Claim If…

A “wrongful death” is a death that would not have occurred had not the other party acted negligently. Common situations that can result in wrongful death occur when the decedent was killed:

  • Because a drunk driver ran into him.
  • Because a doctor failed to diagnose his condition correctly or was careless in his or her level of care.
  • Because an employer failed to provide a safe place to work.
  • Because someone killed him on purpose.
  • Because a medical drug or device led to his death.

These are just a few of the possible examples. There are many others. No matter the situation, however, to be successful in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant was, indeed, negligent.

In a Wrongful Death Lawsuit, the Plaintiff Must Prove…

The plaintiff has to show the judge or jury that the defendant acted negligently, thus causing the decedent’s death. Typically the following elements must apply:

  • Duty of care: The plaintiff must have evidence showing that the defendant owed a duty of care to the decedent. If the decedent died because of a drunk driver, for example, the plaintiff must show that the driver had a duty to avoid intoxication while behind the wheel.
  • Breach of duty of care: The second thing a plaintiff must prove is that the defendant breached the duty of care. If the driver was driving drunk and a sobriety test proved it, that would strengthen the plaintiff’s case.
  • Causation: Even if the driver was drunk and crashed into the decedent, the plaintiff must show that this action directly caused the decedent’s death. In other words, if the decedent was found to have died of a heart attack before the accident, wrongful death would not apply.

For each of these elements, the plaintiff must meet the “burden of proof” as defined by the state. In general, this means that based on the evidence, it is reasonable to assume that the defendant caused the decedent’s death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death claims are usually filed by a representative of the deceased victim’s estate and on behalf of that person’s survivors. The laws governing exactly who can file vary by state, but typically the spouse of a victim and the parent of a victim can both file. Some states differ over whether the following can file:

  • Grown siblings
  • Parents of adult children
  • Adult children for the death of their parents
  • Extended relatives (aunts, uncles, grandparents)
  • Romantic partners

Check with your wrongful death lawyer for more information.