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How Do Wrongful Death Lawsuits Work?

A wrongful death claim can be brought against a defendant if their negligence or intentional harm results in someone’s death. A surviving family member of the deceased person can file a wrongful death lawsuit, seeking damages from the party liable for the death.

When does someone have a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is applicable in the following cases:

  • When a victim is killed intentionally
  • When someone dies as a result of medical malpractice. In this case, the wrongful death action can be brought against the healthcare provider who either failed to properly diagnose the condition, or if they were careless in providing the level of care needed by the patient, resulting in death.
  • If there is a car accident with fatalities as a result of someone’s negligence.

There are many other examples of personal injury cases than can turn into wrongful death claims, such as work injuries that result in death. In fact, a wrongful death claim can stem from any kind of personal injury situation.

What needs to be proven in Wrongful Death lawsuits?

In a wrongful death claim, the plaintiff has to meet the same burden of proof that the victim would have met had they lived, in order to hold the defendant liable. For example, if the defendant owed a duty of care towards the victim, but they breached their duty, resulting in the direct or proximate cause of death, causing the damages that the plaintiff is trying to recover, then that needs to be proven for a viable case.

Filing a wrongful death claim

A surviving family member or a representative of the estate of the deceased victim can file a wrongful death claim. A legal representative can also file a lawsuit on behalf of the survivors of the victim. Depending on the state you are in, the survivors who can file the lawsuit can vary. For example, a spouse is allowed to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of their deceased spouse in every state. Similarly, parents of minors can bring a wrongful death action if their child has been killed in an accident. Likewise, a minor can collect compensation for the death of their parents.

Some states may disagree in cases whether parents of adult children can sue the defendant or not. There is also a disagreement between states on whether adult children can sue for wrongful death of their parents, whether grown siblings can sue for the death of another sibling, whether extended relatives can sue, such as an aunt, uncle, or cousin. It is difficult for distant familial relations to show if they are allowed to collect damages in wrongful death cases. Some states will allow anyone who was financially dependent on the deceased to bring a wrongful death claim.

Damages in wrongful death claims

The survivor may be able to receive compensation for a number of losses in wrongful death lawsuits such as:

  • Pre-death pain and suffering of the deceased person
  • Medical costs incurred as a result of the injury of the deceased person before their death
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of income of the deceased person, especially if they had dependants
  • Loss of any inheritance as a result of the death
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of services which the deceased person would have provided
  • Loss of care, guidance, and nurturing that the deceased person would have provided


Author Bio:

The Law Office of Paul S. Geller is committed to provide aggressive and uncompromising DUI & Criminal defense representation throughout Los Angeles & Pasadena.