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Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Losing a loved one is painful enough without having to deal with legal and financial complications on top of grief. If your family member died as a result of another party’s negligence or intentional actions, you may be able to file a wrongful death claim and pursue compensation. This can help provide for funeral costs, lost income, and other damages.

What is a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim is a civil lawsuit filed by family members of the deceased against a defendant they believe is responsible for causing their loved one’s death. For a claim to be valid, the death must have been caused by the defendant’s wrongful act, neglect, or default.

Common examples of wrongful death cases include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents caused by a negligent driver
  • Medical malpractice, such as a misdiagnosis that leads to death
  • Defective products like dangerous drugs or faulty equipment
  • Premises liability like unsafe property conditions
  • Workplace accidents due to negligence or disregard of safety procedures
  • Deaths resulting from nursing home abuse or neglect
  • Fatal dog attacks when owners failed to restrain dangerous pets
  • Governmental liability, such as when police use excessive force
  • Assault, battery, or murder
  • Aviation accidents
  • Boating accidents

The types of incidents that can lead to wrongful death claims are vast. The key element is that another party’s intentional or negligent actions or inaction resulted in the death.

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Wrongful death laws specify which family members can pursue legal action. Rules vary slightly by state, but eligible filers generally include:

Spouse of the Deceased

In all states, the spouse of the deceased person has the right to file a wrongful death suit. This includes both married and common law spouses. If the couple was separated but still legally married, the spouse can still bring a claim in most cases. However, a few states bar wrongful death claims from legally separated spouses.

Children of the Deceased

The deceased person’s children are also eligible, no matter their age. Minor children deserve compensation since they may face serious financial hardship after losing a parent. Adult children who were financially dependent on the parent can also be significantly affected, especially if they have disabilities making them reliant on the deceased.

Parents of the Deceased

If the deceased person does not have a spouse or children, most state laws permit parents to file a wrongful death claim. This includes both biological and adoptive parents. The parents need to prove their financial dependence on the child. However, some states, like California, allow parents to claim emotional damages rather than requiring financial dependence.

Grandchildren of the Deceased

If the deceased person’s children are already deceased, most states allow the grandchildren to file a claim. This helps ensure minor grandchildren are cared for after losing a grandparent who was acting as their guardian or caretaker.

Other Potential Filers

Beyond immediate family, others who relied financially on the deceased may also be able to file a wrongful death suit depending on state law. This can include:

  • Domestic partners
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings
  • Extended family members
  • Any dependents named in the will

Some states may also allow step-children, half-siblings, fiancés, or other loved ones with close ties to pursue claims. The connection to the deceased and degree of dependence are key factors courts consider. Those with the closest relationships typically take priority.

Time Limits for Filing

It is crucial to act quickly when pursuing wrongful death compensation. These claims must be made within the statute of limitations period, which sets legal deadlines.

Time limits range from 1-6 years, depending on the state. In some cases, the countdown begins at the time of death. Other states start the clock when the defendant’s fault is discovered or should have been discovered. Complex situations like medical malpractice may involve multiple statutes of limitations expiring at different times. In California, parties have two years from the date of death to file.

An experienced Los Angeles wrongful death attorney can help determine the applicable time limits and ensure filings are handled correctly. Trying to handle a case without legal representation can lead to missing strict deadlines.

Special Considerations for Minors

When minor children are involved in a wrongful death case, extra protections apply. Their claims must be filed by an appointed adult guardian on their behalf. Additionally, statutes of limitations are tolled or paused in most states until the children reach the age of 18. This provides them time to recover and avoid losing out on compensation during childhood.

Damages Available

In addition to proving the defendant’s liability for the death, a successful wrongful death claim must establish damages. Financial losses that can be claimed often include:

  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Lost income and benefits
  • Loss of services, protection, care, guidance, and companionship
  • Pain and suffering of loved ones
  • Loss of parental training and guidance for minor children
  • Medical and counseling expenses of family members
  • Punitive damages in cases of gross negligence or intentional actions

Damages directly caused by the death can be recovered. For instance, if a stay-at-home parent dies and surviving family members need to pay for childcare, this expense can be recouped. Expert witnesses like financial analysts are often used to accurately calculate losses.

Skilled attorneys will thoroughly investigate damages like lost future earnings and develop economic reports. Documenting the full effects of losing a loved provider helps convey the depth of loss and pursuit of justice.

Wrongful Death Lawyers Can Help

The legal process following a wrongful death can quickly become overwhelming for grieving families. An experienced wrongful death lawyer Los Angeles can handle the process from start to finish while you focus on healing. Attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, charging no upfront fees and collecting payment only if compensation is successfully recovered in the case. Free consultations help determine the merits of your potential claim.

No amount of money can ever replace the tragic loss of a beloved family member. Yet holding negligent parties accountable and recouping damages can help surviving loved ones rebuild financially and move forward while keeping the victim’s memory alive. Contacting dedicated legal counsel is the first step toward justice.

Call Karns & Karns Personal Injury and Accident Attorneys today at 800-4THE-WIN for a free consultation with a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer. Our team is always available to assess your case, explain your rights, and help you and your family pursue the maximum compensation possible during this difficult time. Don’t go through it alone – let our attorneys shoulder the legal burden while you grieve and heal. Justice awaits.

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