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Wrongful Death: Who Can File?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

A lawsuit for wrongful death is a claim that a person's life was taken due to the negligence of another person or company. It's not an accusation of criminal wrongdoing, but it does ask the defendant to pay for the damage caused.

But there's a big difference between wrongful death and most other civil lawsuits: the person who was injured isn't the plaintiff.

The reason for that should be obvious given what the lawsuit is about. But that leaves us a nagging question. Who can file the suit?

When it comes to lawsuits, the only person who can sue is someone with "standing." That's legalese for someone who was actually harmed by whatever is being sued over.

Harm in legal terms generally has to come with a dollar sign attached to it. It can include medical bills, funeral expenses, and other related costs.

But courts also recognize lost financial support, the lost prospect of inheritance, and lost value of services provided, like child care or home maintenance.

So who has to bear those losses? That's generally immediate family members like spouses, parents, and children. In the majority of cases, those are the people who can file a wrongful death suit.

Some states have laws that specify exactly who can file a wrongful death suit and limit it to those people listed. But others allow a more pragmatic approach.

That would permit non-traditional families or large extended families to file wrongful death suits as well.

At its heart, the claim is meant to help the people coping with the death to deal with the current and future expenses of loss. To make that claim, the plaintiff has to prove that those costs exist.

This is one personal injury claim where punitive damages don't exist. To punish the defendant for his actions, the appropriate route is to press criminal charges.

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