When someone is killed by the acts or negligence of another party, justice may demand that someone bring a wrongful death lawsuit. But not just anyone can start a wrongful death case. Who qualifies to do so? And what less-common situations should you keep in mind when deciding about yours? Here's what you need to know.
1. Immediate Family
One of the most common parties to file a wrongful death case is an immediate family member. This includes parents, children, spouses, and adopted children. Their close relationship with the deceased means that the courts presume that they have suffered a loss. That loss usually includes financial burdens, but it doesn't have to. You may argue loss of consortium, among other things.
2. Extended Family
The farther away you are in blood (or adopted family) relations, the more you must do to prove a financial loss due to the death. So a cousin, grandparent, or sibling can start a lawsuit if they have extenuating circumstances. For example, if you take in your cousin's orphaned children, you have reason to pursue a suit based on the financial burden for child-rearing that was transferred to you.
3. Financial Dependents
You can suffer a financial loss even if you aren't related to the deceased person by blood or marriage. As with extended family, though, you must be able to show that the party liable for the death caused you a financial loss of some kind. For instance, a disabled adult who relies on the income of their roommate is a good candidate for a case.
4. The Estate
Along with family members, the person's estate is one of the most common parties to sue for damages. The estate is represented by its executor or personal representative, who decides if the estate's best interests are served by suing. They may consult with others, but the decision—and how to manage the case—ultimately rests with the executor.
5. Life Partners
Finally, modern law recognizes that not every family unit is defined by a marriage certificate or blood relation. So if you're not legally married, you may still be able to bring a suit for both financial and personal losses. Many states look at domestic partners, life partners, and putative spouses in similar ways as a legally married couple.
Where to Learn More
Before you decide to pursue—or rule out—a wrongful death claim, start by learning more about your options. Meet with a wrongful death lawyer in your area today to get started.