Like any other personal injury case, a successful wrongful death lawsuit concludes with an award of compensation. Unlike a personal injury case, though, the injured person in a wrongful death suit is not the one who receives this award. Indeed, by its very nature, the victim in a wrongful death lawsuit cannot recover any compensation. It can be confusing, then, to know who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit. Understanding these suits and who they are designed to compensate for can help you better appreciate what to expect in these cases.
Understanding the Basics of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Wrongful death lawsuits are suits brought against a negligent person or entity whose actions caused the death of another.
In some ways, these cases are similar to personal injury lawsuits. Both types of cases involve allegations that another person acted carelessly or recklessly. Additionally, in both types of cases, the plaintiff bringing the case must prove that these actions caused injury to another.
The difference between the two types of cases is that in a wrongful death lawsuit, the injured party has died. Because a decedent cannot prosecute their own case or protect their own rights, others bring the case. Not only do they prosecute the case, but they also recover compensation on behalf of the decedent and their family members.
Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Only those individuals who have legal standing can bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Each state’s wrongful death statute sets the list of eligible individuals. However, most states allow the following individuals to file a case on behalf of a decedent:
- The decedent’s spouse
- The parents of the deceased
- Adult children of the decedent or a representative for minor children
- The administrator of the decedent’s estate
- Adult siblings
Friends and extended family members of the deceased are usually not eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. No matter how close such an individual might have been to a decedent, statutes do not permit them to act as plaintiffs in wrongful death cases.
Compensation Available in a Wrongful Death Case
The damages a wrongful death plaintiff seeks through their case fall into two general categories.
The first category encompasses all of the losses the decedent sustained prior to and immediately after their death. This category includes the deceased’s final medical expenses, funeral expenses, and any pain and suffering they experienced prior to their passing.
The second category includes those losses experienced by the decedent’s surviving family members. These damages include the loss of financial support that the decedent’s family could have expected from the deceased.
For instance, suppose the decedent died unexpectedly in a car accident and was only 40 years old. Their family could have expected an additional 20 to 25 years of income from the decedent. And they will be able to pursue compensation for this loss.
It also includes the emotional distress and harm they sustained from losing their loved one suddenly. A spouse can recover damages for the loss of the decedent’s company and companionship. Similarly, children can pursue compensation for the loss of a parent’s guidance and direction.
Recipients of Compensation
If the decedent had a spouse at the time of their death, this spouse would typically be the one to receive compensation. The deceased’s spouse will usually receive compensation even if the two of them had physically separated at the time of the decedent’s passing.
Suppose the decedent had adult children at the time of their passing. In this case, these children can also receive compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
If the children are minors, the decedent’s spouse would receive and hold compensation for the minor children. And if the decedent has minor children but no spouse, an adult guardian for the children will receive the compensation due to them.
If the decedent has no spouse and no children at the time of their death, the law looks to other family members to provide compensation. This group can include surviving parents of the decedent or adult siblings.
Finally, if there are no surviving family members or children, any compensation recovered will become part of the decedent’s estate. Such compensation will then either be distributed according to the terms of the deceased’s will or, if there is no will, according to the state’s laws.
Wrongful Death Compensation When the Decedent Had a Will
Although not every American has the will to direct the handling of their final affairs, some do. If your loved one created a will before their death, this document will likely affect not only who can bring a lawsuit but how any compensation obtained from a suit will be dispersed.
A will invariably identifies someone to act as administrator over the decedent’s estate. If the court appoints this person or anyone else as administrator, some states’ laws will only allow this administrator to file a wrongful death suit. Any compensation obtained in this case would be distributed to the deceased’s beneficiaries as specified in the will.
Speak with an Experienced Wrongful Death Lawyer
There are a surprising amount of complexities that can surface in a wrongful death lawsuit. When your loved one has died unexpectedly, you need and deserve compensation for your current and future financial losses and emotional suffering. So don’t worry about who gets the money in a wrongful death lawsuit, a personal injury lawyer help you with this.
Contact the compassionate but seasoned team at The Joel Bieber Firm for advice and assistance. We will look at your situation and advise you on what you can expect from a wrongful death lawsuit. And if the law allows you to file such a suit, we will devote our resources and skills to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve.