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Wrongful Death Lawsuit: Who Can File and Who Gets the Money?


The wrongful loss of a beloved one is nothing less than tragic. Knowing that their death is someone’s fault is even more heartbreaking. When someone commits murder, whether intentionally or by accident, they are sued by the state. However, some of the people close to the deceased can file a claim, too. It’s called a wrongful death lawsuit. Who can file it and, if won, who gets the money? Let’s find out. 

What is a Wrongful Death?

Imagine if the person who died had survived the accident. If they would have filed a personal injury claim over the incident, it’s most probably a case of wrongful death. Someone caused the accident either intentionally or due to negligence. Examples of wrongful deaths include first-degree murder, or, in other words, if the defendant killed the deceased intentionally. Another example is medical malpractice which can be either recklessness or negligence in diagnosing or treating the patient, resulting in their death. The exception is if the patient’s condition gets worse during treatment or if the condition is untreatable. Car accidents that happen due to reckless driving or negligence also call for a wrongful death claim. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by immediate family members like spouses or children, even if the children are adopted. If the person that died isn’t married, then their parents are the ones who can file the lawsuit. If the deceased had a life partner, a financial dependent, or someone who considers themselves closely tied to the victim, that person can file a lawsuit in some states too. 

Distant family members like siblings or grandparents can file a claim as well in some states. In some states, people who used to depend on the deceased financially can file a claim. And in some, parents of a deceased fetus can file the claim. However, in several other states, the fetus has to be born first before their death for the claim to be valid. According to the lawyers at, generally, the next-of-kin is the one who is the personal representative appointed by the court. If applicable to you, search for skillful lawyers in your area to file a lawsuit for you. 

Losses and Damages

Several damages suffered by the victim’s family can call for compensation. That includes the fact that the deceased went through pain and suffering, like in a medical malpractice case for example. Medical treatment, funeral, and burial costs are another type of damage. The family can also claim that they lost expected income, inheritance, services, care, guidance, love, and/or companionship from the deceased. 

Who Can Be Sued for Wrongful Death?

Anyone can be sued, from individuals to government agencies, unless their state gives them legal immunity. If the road is faulty and caused the car accident, the designer or builder of the road may be sued. Certainly, the driver will be sued, too. If they were drunk, people who served them alcohol may become defendants in the lawsuit. 

How it Works

Let’s go back to imagining the deceased had survived and had a valid personal injury claim. In a personal injury claim, the injured must owe the defendant a duty of care. A duty of care means the individual must act with reasonable care to avoid harming others. If he fails to do so, then it’s a case of negligence. If negligence is proven, then the plaintiff, who is the injured person, or his family, in this case, is owed compensation.

Who Gets the Money?

The law differs from state to state, with the general rule being that the money goes to the estate of the deceased, and gets distributed among the family. The spouse gets it all if they didn’t have children. If children are involved, they take 50% of the money and the spouse gets the remainder. If there is no spouse, the children will have the money distributed equally among them. In case the person had no spouses, children, or siblings, the parents get the compensation money. 

In case the deceased had parents and siblings only, the money is divided among them equally. If one parent is deceased, however, the other one gets their share instead, so double what the siblings will get. Finally, if they only have siblings as family, the money is divided among them. 

If a family member has suffered a wrongful death, we give you our condolences and advise you to find a lawyer to file a claim before the statute of limitations. Your lawyer will do all the adequate research to assess and help you with your case. However, you should go over our guide to get yourself acquainted with what to expect.

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