Who Can Bring a Claim in a Wrongful Death Action?
When someone dies because of the negligence of another person, the loss can have far-reaching consequences, extending beyond immediate family to friends, associates and members of a community. The law allows certain parties to seek compensation for an accidental or wrongful death, but how far does that extend? Who may file legal action to seek damages after a wrongful death?
The purpose of a wrongful death action is to remunerate those who will suffer a loss because of the death. As a general rule, a wrongful death claim can only be filed by someone who is a “real party in interest.” While the laws differ from state to state, there are some parties who are generally always considered to be “real parties in interest” and others who are not.
- Immediate family members—Every state allows immediate family members to seek compensation for the accidental or wrongful death of another family member. This includes parents, children and spouses, but not necessarily siblings or grandparents.
- Distant family members—Some jurisdictions allow other family members to file a claim for damages, but typically only in extenuating circumstances. For example, if a sibling or grandparent has legal custody or responsibility for a person, that person may have a right to damages in the event of their accidental death.
- Financial dependents, life partners, domestic partners—Some states allow for recovery, even if there is no legal relationship, if the surviving person can show that they depended financially on the deceased. In a few states, a person need only show that they will lose care or support because of the wrongful death to be able to seek compensation.
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