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Wrongful Death Lawsuits: Key Considerations

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The death of a loved one is always tragic but having a loved one die due to the negligence of another person or person is especially painful. Although you cannot bring back your loved one, you at least have the option of bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. The following article looks a some of the key considerations involved in this type of legal action.

Who Can Sue

The right to sue someone for the wrongful death of a family member is governed by the laws of the state where the suit is filed. Many states give priority to the spouse, parents, and children of the deceased person. If the decedent did not have this class of close family members then the right to file a lawsuit goes to other relatives, such as siblings or grandparents. Others who may have the right to file suit under some circumstances, depending on state laws, include domestic partners and individuals who are financially dependent upon the deceased.

This procedure is not followed by every state. Under some state statutes, wrongful death suits must be filed by the deceased person's estate. An executor or personal representative of the estate files the action with the court. Any compensation that is awarded from a successful lawsuit is distributed by the executor to the estate's heirs.


The main type of compensation awarded to the plaintiffs of a successful wrongful death suit is pecuniary damages, sometimes called valuation by human capital. These damage awards take into account the income, such as future earnings potential, lost due to the decedent's death.

More rarely, the court might award punitive damages in a wrongful death case. These damages are meant to punish those responsible for someone's death who acted in a particularly reckless or egregious manner.

Another type of damage award, which is less common than pecuniary damages, is hedonic damages. Under this concept, courts consider a range of non-economic damages that the heirs of the decedent and in some cases, the decedent themselves, have suffered. For example, under this concept, a judge or jury can award compensation for the suffering of the decedent before they died. Also, family members can receive damages for the pain and suffering they have experienced due to being deprived of the companionship of their loved one.

Bringing a wrongful death lawsuit is not a matter to take lightly. You will need expert counsel to navigate this complex legal process. The only reasonable course of action is to consult an experienced wrongful death lawyer and let them guide you. For more information, contact a wrongful death lawyer near you.