If medical malpractice causes someone to die, it's possible to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the decedent. However, it's important the right person files the claim. Not just anybody can file for wrongful death. And since there's a time limit on such suits, it's important to know whom the courts will allow to file for the decedent.
Your Location Matters
The people allowed to file wrongful death claims and collect can vary depending on your jurisdiction. It's best to immediately seek your own state's law, but there's a general pattern that most places follow. In every state, the following people typically have the right to file a claim.
- Current spouse or legally recognized domestic partner
- Children or stepchildren in descending order (including adopted)
- The estate of the deceased person
- Parents of unmarried children
Even within these categories, there's quite a few caveats. Most of them will depend on the decedent's life situation.
For example, if someone dies with children from two different marriages, but didn't have a spouse at death. Or, if someone passes with no spouse, no children, and no immediate next of kin. Because everyone has different familial setups, courts make use of beneficiary tiers and other methods to decide who can file.
Expanded Beneficiary Tiers
Outside of the immediate family, courts may consider who suffers the most financial damage from a wrongful death. In some jurisdictions, you wouldn't even need any kind of blood relation to the decedent to pursue action.
Whether such a person's claim can supersede that of an extended family member's will vary. This can also lead to multiple parties filing a claim for the same act of malpractice.
When more than one person files
In situations where multiple claimants step forward, there's several possible ways it can go. The courts will decide who has the better claim.
If more than one person has a rightful claim, the courts may combine their cases. If the claimants themselves dispute the each other's eligibility, then they can file separately. Or, they can file separately but together with the same lawyer, or different law firms.
It Can Become Complicated and Convoluted
There's a lot more that can go into a wrongful death claim. In a best-case scenario, the spouse or the estate representative can make the claim and proceed from there.
If the situation isn't as cut-and-dry as that, then a wrongful death lawyer will become necessary to help you figure out the next step. For example, the decedent may have a will that conflicts with or contradicts the ability of a beneficiary to make a claim or collect. Consult with a lawyer first to see if you have a viable claim.