Accessible, Personalized Representation Schedule a Free Consultation

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

SlechterLaw Firm, PLLC
Doctor holding notebook with words Wrongful Death

When a family member's life is cut short due to the negligent or intentional act of another, the pain for those left behind is compounded by a need for justice. But not just anyone can step forward in a court of law demanding recompense for this catastrophic loss. Understanding who has the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is essential for families dealing with this grief so that they can identify their next steps. 

Understanding Wrongful Death 

Before we venture into the who, it's critical to grasp what constitutes a wrongful death. Wrongful death actions arise from situations where a person dies due to the legal fault of another person or entity, excluding breach of contract or illegal acts. The common thread in these cases is the concept of negligence—failing to exercise the level of care that a reasonably prudent person would have in a similar situation. 

A wrongful death action seeks to compensate the survivors of the deceased for their loss, typically on the basis of financial, emotional, and household contributions. The primary purpose is not to punish the defendant but to provide restitution to the surviving family members. 

Common Causes 

Common causes of wrongful death cases include motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, work-related incidents, and defective products. These incidents share the unfortunate outcome of an untimely death due to another's negligence or misconduct. Each case is as unique as the individual lost, yet they all represent a violation of the care and safety one is entitled to expect from others. Understanding these causes can guide families as they seek to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. 

Eligibility to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Not just anyone can file a wrongful death lawsuit, and the following familial ties typically hold the right to pursue legal action. 

Primary Claimants 

Immediate family members typically enjoy the foremost right to sue in a wrongful death case, with priority often given to spouses, children, and parents of the deceased. 

Spouses and Children 

In most jurisdictions, the primary claimants include the deceased's surviving spouse and children. This designation ensures that those most directly and profoundly impacted have the opportunity to seek legal recourse. 

Parents of Deceased Minors 

A special emphasis in wrongful death statutes is placed on the rights of parents whose minor children have tragically passed. The law recognizes the unique bond between parent and child and affords this pivotal legal avenue for bereaved parents to seek compensation. 

Secondary Claimants 

After the primary claimants, the rights of extended family members and financial dependents come into play. 

Siblings and Grandparents 

While the standing of siblings and grandparents is often considered secondary, under certain conditions, they may have the right to file if they can demonstrate financial dependence on the deceased. State laws governing wrongful death actions can greatly impact these secondary claimant rights. 

Financial Dependents 

Any person who can illustrate a significant financial dependence on the deceased, though not related by blood or marriage, may also be able to bring a wrongful death claim. 

Special Considerations for Unmarried Partners or Fiancés 

In cases where a wrongful death involves a non-marital relationship, the laws in some states may lack clear provisions for the surviving partner. Whether through common law marriage or defining the relationship through cohabitation, some legal pathways still exist for these partners to seek compensation. 

Factors Influencing the Right to Sue

The determination of who can file a wrongful death lawsuit is not always black and white. Multiple factors come into play, shaping the rights and responsibilities of those involved. 

Relationship to the Deceased 

The closeness of one's relationship with the deceased is a pivotal factor. The immediate impact and intertwined life situations of spouses and children, for instance, inherently position them as primary claimants. Courts typically consider the nature of the relationship, including emotional reliance, when assessing eligibility. 

Financial Dependence 

You don't always have to just be a blood relative to seek damages for wrongful death. Financial dependence on the deceased can confer the right to legal action upon a variety of individuals, from close family members to more peripheral associates. 

State Laws 

State laws play a central role in defining who can file a wrongful death lawsuit. They dictate which family members have the standing and the ability to prove economic and non-economic damages. Thus, it is imperative for those considering legal action to familiarize themselves with the specific statutes governing wrongful death in their jurisdiction. 

Kentucky Wrongful Death Lawsuits 

In Kentucky, specific statutes govern who can file a wrongful death lawsuit, reflecting a unique approach compared to other states. A critical distinction in Kentucky law is the role of the "personal representative" of the deceased's estate. It is this representative, rather than individual family members, who is authorized to file the wrongful death claim in court. This representative acts on behalf of the estate and, by extension, the beneficiaries, which include the deceased's surviving family members. 

Once a wrongful death lawsuit is successful, the manner in which damages are awarded and distributed in Kentucky also follows specific guidelines: 

  • If the deceased is survived by a spouse but no children, the entire compensation amount goes to the spouse. 

  • If there are both a surviving spouse and children, the awarded damages are divided in half, with one portion going to the spouse and the other to the children. 

  • If there are children but no spouse, the children receive the entire compensation. 

  • If there are no immediate family members, damages may be distributed to the deceased's parents or to the estate and then according to the deceased's will or Kentucky’s laws on intestate succession. 

In these difficult times, legal counsel with experience in wrongful death cases can provide invaluable guidance. Attorneys such as Mr. and Mrs. Slechter of Slechter Law Firm, PLLC have a wealth of knowledge and a reputation for offering compassionate support to families seeking redress. 

Fight for the Compensation You Deserve 

The conclusion of a wrongful death lawsuit can bring a sense of closure and, for some, a measure of peace. It is the final step in a quest for justice that encompasses various elements, all leading to a resolution that acknowledges the immense loss. 

A wrongful death lawsuit can have many challenges, but it is a vital process for families to seek the restitution they are due in the wake of tragedy. By understanding the wrongful death rights and engaging with experienced legal counsel, families can pursue the justice that is rightfully theirs. Regardless of the specific circumstances, the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit is a powerful tool in the hands of survivors, one that can serve to right the wrongs of society and offer a semblance of solace in the face of an irreplaceable loss.