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Wrongful Death Claims: Meaning and Plaintiffs

Accident in Anchorage

‘There are two things that are certain in life, that is death and taxes’, this is a common phrase used that gives certainty to two elements while others may happen by chance. Death is a common part of life. However, while death in itself is inevitable some deaths are referred to as wrongful. In these instances, a survivor can make a wrongful death claim. This article and a subsequent one will discuss wrongful death claims, who is eligible to sue for wrongful death and who may be sued for wrongful death.

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute a wrongful death is defined as “a death caused by a wrongful act of another, either accidentally or intentionally.” Put simply a wrongful death is when someone’s death is the fault of someone else. The one at a fault for the wrongful death can be a person, group of persons or an entity. An entity may be a company such as a car manufacturer or retail distributor. Depending on the circumstances and relationship to the deceased, survivors may be able to put forward a wrongful death lawsuit.

A wrongful death claim is a claim put forward when a person dies as a result of the legal fault of someone else. Such claims involve all types of fatal accidents that are legally the fault of another person or entity; for example:

  • Car accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Products liability

Therefore, it is possible to claim other damages alongside wrongful death claims. For example, in a car accident where two spouses were occupying one vehicle. And where one spouse dies and the surviving spouse suffers injury; he or she is able to claim for their injuries as well as wrongful death.

The basis of a wrongful death claim is that of negligence, where an individual is found to be at fault for failing to act as a reasonable person would act under similar circumstances, and where the individual acted intentionally.

It important to note that a wrongful death claim must be brought forward on behalf of the survivors. Such survivors would have suffered damage as a result of the death of the person. These survivors are referred to as the “real parties in interest”. In most cases the representative of the “real parties in interest” is the executor of the deceased’s estate. The definition of the “real parties in interest” varies from one state to the next. Depending on the state the death occurred in, the “real parties in interest” include the following:

  • Immediate family – immediate family members are recognized as survivors in all states. These are made up of spouses, children (including adopted children) and parents of unmarried children.
  • Life partners, financial dependents and putative spouses – a putative spouse, domestic and life partners are recognized in some states as well as persons who were financially dependent on the deceased.
  • Distant family members – brothers, sisters and grandparents are recognized as survivors in some states.

To learn more about your eligibility as a wrongful death survivor, contact wrongful death and bodily injury lawyers.