The law has a fairly narrow definition of who can bring a wrongful death claim or suit. A commonly used legal term to describe these sorts of people is "real parties in interest." Proving that you have a legally valid interest in seeking compensation gets more challenging the less direct your relationship with the deceased is. Here is a look at the chances someone can sue by looking at them from the most to least eligible.
Highly Eligible: Spouses, Dependent Children, and Parents of Minor Children
There isn't a wrongful death attorney in the U.S. who won't consider a case from a properly married spouse. Likewise, dependent children almost always have claims as long as their dependent status is clearly established, although there might be some issues with estranged children. Biological parents of minor children that die usually have claims as long as those children. Adoptive parents typically fall into this category, too.
Probably Eligible: Putative Spouses and Dependent Adults
Eligibility, in this case, depends strongly on the state's laws regarding common-law marriages. Some states have moved to completely abolish common-law marriages, and that can harm putative spouses' rights to make claims.
Most dependent adults are eligible to pursue claims. The court will likely want to see some documentation that there was a legally-binding relationship that placed the dependent adult into the deceased's care before a suit can be filed. Likewise, there may be greater scrutiny if a trustee brings a case on behalf of a dependent adult.
Potentially Eligible: Dependent Children of Individuals in Loco Parentis
The concept of standing in loco parentis is that an adult operates in the role of parent even though they are not biological parents. Suppose a teenager moved in with an adult sibling because their biological parents were unfit. While it would be better if a full-on adoption occurred, the court understands that such on-the-fly arrangements do happen. If the de facto parent died under wrongful circumstances, a dependent child in their care might be able to bring a claim. Notably, the court will want to see extensive documentation that the relationship was lasting.
Probably Not Eligible: Most Other Relatives and All Non-Relatives
One small exception exists when it comes to the ability of most other relatives to sue. You might be able to pursue a claim if you are the closest living relative of the deceased. For example, a brother may be able to sue for the loss of a sister if she died without any children. Non-relatives, even business partners, never have standing.
Contact a wrongful death attorney for more information.Share
9 April 2020
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