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When Should You File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Nothing causes life-changing agony and pain like the death of a loved one. The trauma of loss can paralyze you, especially if you know that death was avoidable.

What can you do when you see a loved one die because of someone else's negligence? If you have seen a loved one lose their life because someone else made a mistake, then you may have a claim to a wrongful death lawsuit.

But how do you know if you have a chance of winning a lawsuit where you sue for wrongful death? What if you pour all of your financial and time resources into a case that you won't be able to win?

Keep reading to learn about wrongful death qualifications and how to know if you have a valid case.

What Is Wrongful Death?

Wrongful death occurs when someone dies because another individual or organization neglected safety measures or behaved in a way that caused the death. The individual may be subject to criminal prosecution. However, as a close family member, you have a civil case that is separate from a criminal case of murder or manslaughter.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

When your loved one suffers from wrongful death, you can sue for wrongful death. Historically, common law did not allow for a wrongful death lawsuit. But within the last hundred years, state and federal courts created the right for individuals to bring about a wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death claims can involve any type of fatal accident. This includes complicated medical malpractice, product liability cases, and car accidents. You can sue individual people, businesses, organizations, and even government agencies for negligence or intentional harm.

If you're not sure if your situation qualifies, you can ask an attorney. An experienced law firm like Buckingham Barrera Law Firm can help you determine if you have a winnable case or not.

Who Can Sue For Wrongful Death?

Obviously, the one person harmed the most, the one who died, cannot sue for wrongful death. So who can sue for wrongful death?

Only a representative on behalf of survivors can file a wrongful death claim. The survivors must suffer damage or loss because of the decedent's death. These people may include the following individuals:

  • Spouse
  • Children, both biological and adopted
  • Domestic or life partner, including anyone who depended on the decedent financially
  • Parents of unmarried children
  • Brothers
  • Sisters
  • Grandparents who are raising a child
  • Parents of a deceased fetus

All of the individuals who suffer financially from the wrongful death of an individual can potentially benefit from a wrongful death suit, depending on the laws of a given state. States each have their own laws on who can bring about and benefit from a wrongful death lawsuit, so check your state's laws or consult an experienced attorney.

Who Can You Sue For Wrongful Death?

State laws state specifically who can you sue for wrongful death. You can name individuals, companies, businesses, organizations, government agencies, and employees in a wrongful death lawsuit.

For example, if your loved one dies as the result of a drunk driver and faulty road, you can list any one of these individuals or entities in the lawsuit:

  • Driver of the car
  • Employer of the driver if the driver was on the job
  • Designer of the faulty roadway
  • Builder of the faulty roadway
  • Any government agent or agency that failed to provide sufficient warnings involving the road hazard
  • Person or business owner that served sold or gave alcohol to the driver

Anyone involved in the wrongful death of your loved one should be held accountable for their actions. So in the case of a drunk driving accident, more than just the driver played a part in the decedent's accident and death.


Some states grant immunity to organizations and individuals. For example, family members retain immunity in some states. States created this rule to keep family members from defrauding insurance companies and to promote family harmony.

The strict application of family immunity, unfortunately, kept children from collecting insurance money owed to them. Thus, many states have discarded the family immunity rule. In many states, adult children are allowed to sue a parent, but minor children cannot sue a parent.

States need to waive sovereign immunity for you to file a wrongful death action against a state or local government. Sovereign immunity bars lawsuits against government entities. Many states have waived sovereign immunity.

Thus, if your child dies in a public swimming pool, you can sue your city for wrongful death based on negligence.

States that do allow wrongful death actions against government entities have a strict notice requirement. This means that you, as a plaintiff, must notify the entity that you're contemplating bringing a lawsuit against them. This notification gives the government organization a chance to adjust its budget according to the potential losses.

The time period for filing a notice varies from 30 to 60 to 90 days. If you do not file a notice, then you cannot file the lawsuit.

Contact a Professional

When in doubt, seek an attorney that specializes in filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Look for an attorney or firm that has won several wrongful death lawsuits. These lawyers will best know if you have a case and how to win that case.

The right attorney will also understand the state laws that prevent you from filing a wrongful death suit. Each state has limitations on who you can sue and who can benefit from the suit. A local attorney will best understand your state's laws and also look to simplify legal processes and procedures for clients.

Read this overview that offers an updated perspective of legal process improvement. It comes with editable templates such as process maps, flowcharts, mind maps and accident reconstruction diagrams, with useful tips for different scenarios.

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