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Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 09, 2015 9:59 AM

When a loved one is killed by the intentional or negligent actions of another, a criminal conviction may bring justice. However, sending the defendant to jail won't cover the loss of a family member's care and support.

To receive civil compensation, victims' surviving family members can file wrongful death lawsuits. Normally, the person who is injured would sue for damages. However, in a wrongful death lawsuit, the victim obviously isn't in a position to bring a lawsuit.

So, who can sue for wrongful death?

Family Members Can Sue for Wrongful Death

A wrongful death suit is a civil lawsuit brought by the survivors of a decedent, killed by the defendant's negligent, reckless, or intentional action. The survivors want monetary damages such as loss of support, services, inheritance, and medical and funeral expenses.

In most states, close family members such as parents, spouses, and children can sue for wrongful death. Some states' wrongful death statutes even allow domestic partners, grandparents, and brothers and sisters to sue.

What Are the Damages in a Wrongful Death Case?

While parents, spouses, children, partners, grandparents, and brothers and sisters can all sue for wrongful death, they may not receive damages equally. Damages in a wrongful death case are calculated based upon the loss the plaintiffs suffered when the decedent died. Some plaintiffs are likely to suffer more loss than other plaintiffs for the death of the same person.

For example: Bob was killed in a logging accident. When he was alive, Bob supported his parents with a $100 check each month. His son, Tom, moved out of the house 10 years ago and does not receive any support from Bob. At home, Bob has a 5 year old daughter, Alice, who relies solely on him for support.

In a wrongful death suit, Bob's parents, Tom, and Alice can all sue. However, their damages are limited to the loss of financial support they would have received from Bob. Alice would receive the most because she was fully reliant on Bob for support. Tom would receive no damages because he did not receive any support at all from Bob. And, Bob's parents will probably receive a small amount of damages to make up for the $100 a month they lost when Bob died.

As you can see, figuring out who can file a wrongful death suit is easy; proving damages and losses is the hard part. If your family member has been killed by another's negligent, reckless, or intentional actions, and you would like to sue for wrongful death, consult an experienced local wrongful death lawyer for help.

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