Who Can File A Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Death can occur accidentally for all manner of reason, but almost always someone will be liable. Car accident? The at-fault driver is liable for fatalities that occur. Medical malpractice? The doctors and organization responsible for a patient are usually responsible. Workplace accident? Numerous parties could eventually be held accountable. 

Wrongful death falls under the umbrella of personal injury. There’s an obvious problem in filing wrongful death lawsuits, though. The victim is usually the one who files a normal personal injury lawsuit. Who is legally allowed to file a wrongful death lawsuit — because the victim is no longer around to do so?

Generally, the laws will be determined by where the deceased victim resided. For example, under Virginia wrongful death law, only surviving family members are legally allowed to file such a suit. There’s a caveat to this law, however. One family member can’t build the case. The deceased family member’s estate must bring about the suit. In this particular situation, an estate representative would collaborate with the wrongful death attorney to decide whether or not a case has merit in court.

Most states have similar laws, but sometimes individuals are allowed to file a lawsuit on their own. In most cases, only spouses, parents, or children can file these lawsuits. Friends of the victim cannot. 

Once the parties who are allowed to sue have been determined, it’s time to figure out who they can legally sue. Usually, an employer, healthcare practitioner or other negligent party can be sued for compensation of the victim’s family members. Often, a local or state government can be targeted as well. 

Decades ago, a deceased victim’s family could not sue someone who voluntarily committed an act of violence — i.e. murder — because the case would be due in criminal court. These days, people are still allowed to sue a criminal defendant in criminal court because the same negligent or willful acts have injured the other party. Check your state’s laws to find out how your wrongful death lawsuit would proceed in court.