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Who Can Begin a Wrongful Death Suit?

February 12, 2016

If there has been a wrongful death that has occurred in your family or circle of close friends, it is likely time to take action. You may not know much about filing a wrongful death suit – you may even think that you are not the person who should be filing it to begin with. But the worst thing that can happen is if no action is taken at all – their family members should be compensated for it, and the party in the wrong should be held accountable for their devastating negligence.

What is a wrongful death suit?

A wrongful death comes from either negligence or some other wrongful or illegal act by someone, against a person, with the result being a death that could have been prevented. The whole purpose of a wrongful death suit is to compensate the family members of the dead person, paying them back for financial losses that occurred because of the death. Although nothing can bring back the dead, a successful wrongful death suit can, at least, bring some feeling of justice to the mourning family members of the person who died.

So who can file a wrongful death suit?

Every US state has some sort of statute that allows people the ability to recover for wrongful death, but different states have different specific rules about which people are legally allowed to file a wrongful death suit. Generally speaking, immediate family members always have the right to file a wrongful death suit, but after that, the details get rather muddled.

Most of the American statutes specify which type of family members are allowed to file a wrongful death suit – it may only include the widow or widower, or perhaps it is the children of the deceased, or maybe it includes more people than that. These designated people are considered the “statutory beneficiaries.” The statutory beneficiaries are the only ones who will receive the monetary compensation for the suit. This “class” of people determines their eligibility for compensation; if there is no living family that falls into that first class, then the next closest class becomes the statutory beneficiaries. If no classes of members are living at all, there is no possible way to file a wrongful death suit.

Some states employ a different system that involves estate-based compensation, however. This is called a “Loss-To-Estate System.” In states with a Loss-to-estate system, the estate of the deceased person is the only place the wrongful death claim can come from. This usually means that there is a personal representative of the estate who has been chosen by the probate court to deal with the assets of the deceased. While this personal representative would be filing under their own name, they would not receive all of the compensation; rather, a trust of sorts would then be set up for the compensation to be shared amongst the statutory beneficiaries. The monetary compensation that comes from a wrongful death also varies state by state, so there is no standard, set “sum” for this type of tragedy.

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