Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Suit?

If a third party’s negligence or the wrongful act of someone has resulted in the death of a loved one, the victim’s immediate family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit with the help of wrongful death lawyers.

These claims are intended to compensate family members of the deceased person for losses resulting from the death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

While all states have a specific statute of limitations regarding wrongful death lawsuits, the person or people permitted to file a lawsuit can vary from state to state. There are two main systems that wrongful death statutes use.

The Lord Campbell System

A majority of states have statutes that still adhere to the guidelines of the “Lord Campbell Act,” which the British Parliament put into action in 1846. In American cases based on this Act, only designated beneficiaries can file a wrongful death claim. Designated beneficiaries are individuals or an entire class of people specified by the statute, typically based on their relationship with the deceased. For instance, some statutes may consider the deceased’s children to be statutory beneficiaries, while others may designate the widow or widower as the sole beneficiary.

These designated family members in this class are the only ones who will be allowed to sue. However, if there are no living members of that first class, the right to file suit falls to the members of the next class. If there are no living members of any class, nobody can bring a wrongful death claim.

Other examples of designated beneficiaries can include parents of a deceased child, domestic or life partners, or financial dependents who suffer financially because of the death.

Loss-to-Estate System

Other states will only allow a personal representative of the decedent’s estate to bring a wrongful death claim for compensation of losses. The representative would use his or her own name to file the claim, but any amount recovered would then go into a special trust or disbursement to any designated beneficiaries of the estate.

Following the death of a loved one believed to have been the result of negligence, it’s ideal to determine whom the state qualifies as a designated beneficiary prior to filing a wrongful death claim, though the right to sue will typically go to the immediate family, with the help of qualified wrongful death lawyers.