Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

woman with rose looking at casket

A wrongful death is defined as a death caused by the wrongful act, neglect, or default of another. It is a legal concept that allows the estate of the deceased person to file a lawsuit against the party who is legally liable for the death. This can include a wide range of fatal incidents from simple car accidents to more complex medical malpractice or product liability cases.

Legal Elements of a Wrongful Death Claim

There are several key elements that must be present to file a wrongful death claim. These include the death of a person, the death being caused by another's negligence or intent to cause harm, the survival of family members who are suffering monetary injury as a result of the death, and the appointment of a personal representative for the decedent's estate. Understanding these elements can be complex, but a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer can provide guidance.

Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

When a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, the court may award damages to the deceased's estate and surviving family members. These damages can cover a variety of losses, including medical and funeral expenses, loss of the deceased's expected income, loss of inheritance, and pain and suffering experienced by the surviving family members. The specific amount of damages awarded will depend on the circumstances of the case.

Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Not everyone is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit. In most cases, the lawsuit must be filed by a representative of the deceased's estate, often an immediate family member. However, the specific laws regarding who can file a wrongful death lawsuit can vary from state to state, making it important to consult with a personal injury lawyer.

Immediate Family Members

In all states, immediate family members such as spouses and children (including adopted children) of the deceased can file a wrongful death lawsuit. In some cases, parents of unmarried children can also file a lawsuit if their child is deceased. These individuals have the most direct legal standing as they are most directly affected by the loss.

Life Partners, Financial Dependents, and Putative Spouses

In some states, a life partner, financial dependent, or putative spouse (a person who had a good faith belief that they were married to the deceased) may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This can include domestic partners or others who were financially dependent on the deceased.

Distant Family Members, Parents of a Deceased Fetus

Some states also allow distant family members such as siblings or grandparents to file a wrongful death lawsuit, particularly if they were caretakers for the deceased. In some cases, parents may be able to sue for wrongful death if their fetus is stillborn as a result of negligence or misconduct.

Role of Personal Representatives or Executors

The role of personal representatives or executors in a wrongful death lawsuit is a crucial one. These individuals are responsible for initiating the lawsuit and ensuring that the deceased's estate and family members are adequately represented in court.

Appointment of Personal Representatives or Executors

Personal representatives or executors are typically appointed in the deceased's will. If no will exists, or if the appointed representative is unable or unwilling to serve, the court will appoint a representative. This is usually a close family member or legal professional.

Responsibilities of Personal Representatives in Wrongful Death Claims

The personal representative has several important responsibilities in a wrongful death claim. These include gathering and preserving evidence, hiring a personal injury lawyer, filing the lawsuit in court, and making decisions about settlement offers. The representative is also responsible for distributing any damages awarded to the appropriate parties.

Legal Procedures in Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Filing a wrongful death lawsuit involves several important legal procedures. Understanding these procedures can help ensure that the lawsuit is filed correctly and that the deceased's family has the best chance of receiving the compensation they deserve.

Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims

Every state has a statute of limitations for wrongful death claims. This is a deadline by which the lawsuit must be filed. In North Carolina, the statute of limitations for wrongful death claims is two years from the date of death. Missing this deadline can result in the loss of the right to sue.

Filing Process for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The filing process for a wrongful death lawsuit typically involves drafting a complaint that outlines the facts of the case, the legal basis for the lawsuit, and the damages being sought. This complaint is then filed with the court and served to the defendant(s). It's advisable to work with a personal injury lawyer to ensure this process is completed correctly.

Proving Liability in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Proving liability in a wrongful death lawsuit involves demonstrating that the defendant's negligence or misconduct caused the death and that the surviving family members have suffered damages as a result. This often requires extensive evidence, including medical records, accident reports, and expert testimony.

Common Misconceptions and FAQs about Wrongful Death Lawsuits

There are many misconceptions about wrongful death lawsuits, and many people have questions about the process. Here, we'll address some of the most common misconceptions and FAQs to provide a clearer understanding of these complex legal proceedings.

Misconceptions about Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

One common misconception is that anyone who feels wronged by the death can file a lawsuit. In reality, only certain individuals (usually close family members or legal representatives) have the legal standing to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Additionally, the lawsuit must be filed within a certain time frame, known as the statute of limitations.

FAQs on Eligibility and Filing Process

Many people have questions about who is eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit and how the filing process works. As mentioned earlier, eligibility is usually limited to close family members or legal representatives. The filing process involves drafting and filing a complaint, serving the complaint to the defendant(s), and then proceeding through the litigation process.

Legal Rights and Protections for Claimants

Claimants in a wrongful death lawsuit have certain legal rights and protections. These include the right to a fair trial, the right to legal representation, and the right to seek damages for their loss. It's important to work with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer to ensure these rights are protected.

Reach Out to Hyland, Padilla & Fowler, PLLC Today

If you're considering a wrongful death lawsuit, our experienced team at Hyland, Padilla & Fowler, PLLC can help. We understand the complexities of these cases and will work tirelessly to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Call Hyland, Padilla & Fowler, PLLC now at (919) 891-8361 or send us a message online.