Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Imagine losing your loved one in an accident, such as a car crash. It’s devastating, and you may be unable to breathe or think. But what if the accident happened because of another person’s negligence? This introduces an entirely other level of emotional devastation, and there are many legal and financial questions as well. When someone dies because of another person’s recklessness or wrongful act, filing a wrongful death lawsuit is an option. A wrongful death lawsuit can provide your family with a sense of closure and justice, as well as compensation that can be vital to your future.

Before filing a claim, you should understand more about wrongful death lawsuits, including who can file one. Learn more below about wrongful death lawsuits, and speak to a Florida wrongful death attorney if you have more questions.

What Is A Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit

A wrongful death lawsuit is a civil action that the family can bring on behalf of their loved one who died because of someone’s negligence or wrongful act. The purpose of a wrongful death lawsuit is to obtain compensation for the damages and losses the survivors or beneficiaries incurred related to the death. Legally resolving the case also helps the family obtain a feeling of closure, which can be important to the healing process.

There are several criteria for filing a valid wrongful death lawsuit. These factors can vary by state, so be sure to review your case with an experienced wrongful death attorney:

  • A person died related to the negligence or intentional act of another party. Common accidents that lead to wrongful death lawsuits are motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, assaults, workplace accidents, and slip-and-fall incidents. 
  • There are surviving family members or beneficiaries. Parties who can file suit vary by state but typically include spouses, parents, or children. 
  • Family members incurred financial and emotional damages. There has to be measurable damages that the family suffered related to the death, such as burial, funeral, and medical costs, emotional distress, mental anguish, and lost income. 

You must prove that the defendant violated their duty of care and caused the death. It also is necessary to show that you suffered damages and injuries related to the loss.

Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

Every state has its own laws governing wrongful death lawsuits and who can file them. You should check with your attorney and state laws to understand who can file in your area. For example, in Florida, only the personal representative of the deceased’s estate can file a wrongful death claim. The personal representative can be a spouse, close relative, attorney, or close friend.

However, the representative files the claim on behalf of close family members who will receive the proceeds of the lawsuit. Such family members include:

  • Spouses: The surviving spouse is the most likely beneficiary of a wrongful death lawsuit. Many states say that even if you were separated when the death happened, you can still be eligible to receive benefits from a wrongful death lawsuit. 
  • Children: Any biological child of the decedent can usually benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit. Also, a child who was legally adopted by the decedent may be eligible to receive compensation from a lawsuit. 
  • Parents: Biological parents might qualify for proceeds from the lawsuit, but often only if there is no surviving spouse or children. 

Other states allow certain family members to file a wrongful death lawsuit directly without the intervention of a personal representative. Each state has its own complex laws regarding who can file a wrongful death claim. Speak to a wrongful death attorney to understand who can file the lawsuit in your state.

Common Accidents Leading To Wrongful Death Lawsuits

Wrongful Death

Many types of accidents can trigger a wrongful death lawsuit:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Drunk driving accidents
  • Falls and premises liability accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Rideshare accidents
  • Defective product accidents

These accidents can result in personal injury claims if the victim survives, but it turns into a wrongful death lawsuit if the accident is fatal.

Who Can Be Sued For Wrongful Death? 

Almost any person or entity can be sued for wrongful death if their negligence or wrongful act caused a death. Some examples are:

  • Drivers of cars or trucks that cause a fatal collision
  • Companies that design or manufacture unsafe products
  • Companies or persons who give alcohol to drivers who kill others
  • Companies that do not warn others of product risks
  • Builders or designers of faulty bridges, buildings, or roads
  • Medical professionals who engage in medical malpractice
  • Employers of people who caused a death, such as the employer of a delivery driver who killed someone in a car accident

Differences Between A Personal Injury And Wrongful Death Lawsuit

A wrongful death lawsuit is similar to a personal injury lawsuit. The difference is that a personal injury claim is related to an accident with only injuries. A wrongful death lawsuit is filed when the person in the accident dies.

In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured party can file a claim or lawsuit themselves against the negligent party. The personal injury victim has to show that the negligent party violated their duty of care and harmed them. If they do so, the injured party can receive compensation for medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering.

Negligent Driver

On the other hand, in a wrongful death claim, a close family member or personal representative of the decedent files the claim against the person or entity who caused the death. They may negotiate a settlement with the defendant or their insurance company or file a lawsuit if needed. The family or beneficiaries can receive compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost income, loss of care and support, loss of consortium, funeral and medical bills, and more.

Both personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are civil actions. Any criminal case stemming from the incident that caused the injury or death is separate. For example, if a drunk driver killed your wife in a crosswalk, you can file a wrongful death lawsuit. The state or county prosecutor will likely file a criminal case against the defendant as well. The defendant doesn’t have to be charged or convicted of a crime for you to receive benefits in a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Damages Can You Receive In A Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

There are several types of compensation you might seek in your wrongful death claim. They are:

Economic Damages

These are the financial damages that you have incurred because of your loved one’s death:

  • Lost earnings and benefits: If the decedent earned an income at a job and had work benefits, you can be entitled to compensation. You may be due years of lost income, lost inheritance, lost pensions and retirement benefits, etc. 
  • Medical and funeral costs: You should receive compensation for the costs of medical treatments at the time of death, as well as burial and funeral expenses. 

Non-Economic Damages

These damages are less tangible than economic damages but just as real:

  • Loss of companionship: Losing a loved one you relied on daily has more value than just their lost income. Your loved one may have been your spouse, daily companion, or person who maintained your home and raised the children while you worked. 
  • Pain and suffering: The mental anguish and grief you have related to the loss of your loved one, especially if you have been unable to work and enjoy life. 
  • Loss of consortium: Losing the benefits of an intimate relationship or losing your close relationship with a child or parents. 

Wrongful death claims can have a high case value. You should have an experienced wrongful death attorney review your case to understand its worth. Attempting to value a wrongful death claim and settle with the defendant’s insurance company on your own may result in your receiving less compensation than you otherwise should.

How To File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit

If you think your loved one died because of someone’s intentional act or negligence, you should speak to a wrongful death lawyer about filing a claim today. You usually only have between one and four years from the date of death to file a wrongful death lawsuit, so retaining an attorney quickly is important.

After retaining an attorney, the next step is for the case to be filed in a court with jurisdiction over the matter. This usually means filing the claim in the county or city where the death happened. Your attorney will ensure the claim is filed in the correct court against the proper person or entity.

You can negotiate a financial settlement with the defendant or their insurance company before officially filing a lawsuit. For instance, in a car accident resulting in death, you and your attorney can negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company for a settlement. If the insurance company offers a reasonable sum, you will sign the legal documents, resolve the case, and receive compensation by check or in your bank account.

Wrongful Death Claim

In other cases, the defendant or insurance company will contest the claim or offer less than you think you deserve. This is when you may need to file a wrongful death lawsuit and go to court. It is a critical decision whether to settle for what the insurance company offers or file a lawsuit.

Going to court is possible if you think you deserve much more and are willing to risk a trial. But settling can be better if you need money now and don’t want to risk walking away with nothing. Your attorney will review your legal options with you, but the final decision is yours. Many wrongful death lawsuits end in a settlement so that the family can have a sense of closure and get the money they need sooner.

What Affects The Value Of A Wrongful Death Lawsuit? 

All wrongful death claims are different, so there is no average settlement or verdict award. Damages in these cases can be in the five, six, seven, or even eight figures. How much you receive in a wrongful death claim depends on many factors, such as:

  • How old the deceased was. The settlement can be higher if they were younger and had a longer life expectancy. 
  • The health of the deceased. There can be a higher case value if the person was in good health and had a longer life expectancy. 
  • The person’s income, education, and training. In most cases, someone with a higher income and education would have earned more income in their life without a bachelor’s degree. 
  • How old the survivors are and their life situations. The case can be worth more if the deceased had young children dependent on them. 
  • How much the medical and funeral expenses were. 
  • The degree of pain and suffering the victim had during death. An instant death, such as in an explosion, may be viewed differently than someone who suffered for weeks after a severe car accident. 
  • Benefits the family has lost, such as pensions and health insurance. 

How Long Does It Take To Resolve A Wrongful Death Claim? 

James Holliday
James Holliday, Wrongful Death Lawyer in Florida

How long it takes to resolve your claim varies. Some claims settle in a few months, so many plaintiffs opt for an insurance settlement instead of a lawsuit. If the case goes to court, it can take much longer. Just getting the trial on the court docket can take many months. It also takes months to fully investigate the case and collect evidence.

Review your case with an experienced wrongful death attorney, and they can give you an idea of how long your case can take to resolve.

Speak To A Wrongful Death Attorney Today 

Losing a loved one in an accident because of someone’s negligence is personally and emotionally devastating. If you lost your loved one recently in an accident, you may not know how to move forward with your life. Once the shock has worn off, you may consider filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party. The money you can receive will help you to rebuild your life and ensure your financial future. Have a wrongful death attorney in your community review your case today.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation Today!

James Wayne Holliday Author Image

James Wayne Holliday

James Wayne Holliday has been practicing law since 1995. He has been named as a “Best Attorney” Lifetime Charter Member in Florida, an honor awarded to less than one percent of the nation’s lawyers.

Mr. Holliday has earned a reputation as a relentless trial lawyer because of his outstanding work ethic and thorough preparation of his cases for trial.

Author's Bio


Book a Free Consultation