Who Collects in a Wrongful Death Suit?

As with all specific factors regarding a wrongful death suit, states vary on who can collect in a wrongful death action.  Most states allow children and spouses of the deceased to collect and some states also allow parents of deceased children to collect.  A personal representative of the estate is allowed to file a wrongful death suit in order to collect payments for medical and funeral expenses which would be paid out of the estate.

Collectability in Different States

As an example, the language in the Illinois Wrongful Death Act states:  “the amount recovered in every such action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin of such deceased person.” In Pennsylvania, only children, a spouse, and parents may collect from wrongful death claims.  While it is rare for a close friend or sibling to be able to collect in a wrongful death suit, there are states in which an effective attorney could argue for their right to do so.  Some states include the beneficiaries named in the will.  In Minnesota, all dependents may collect in a wrongful death suit. Depending on the state you live in, your lawyer has different option as far as who can collect for damages. Consult with an attorney in your state to find out.

Wrongful Death Law is Not Criminal Law

In understanding who can collect in a wrongful death suit, it is helpful to understand the difference between wrongful death and murder.  Wrongful death is a civil lawsuit brought by family members whereas murder is a criminal lawsuit brought by the state or county.  In criminal cases, evidence must prove the elements of the case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That is the highest standard of evidential proof in our court system.

Winning a Civil Case

In a civil case, the evidence must prove the elements of the case “by a preponderance of the evidence” which is actually a very low standard. In a wrongful death case, that means that the evidence must prove it is more than 50% likely that the negligent party recklessly caused the death.  An example of this is the O.J. Simpson case.  He was found non-guilty in his criminal trial, but the families of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman won their civil wrongful death suits. To find out who can collect on a wrongful death suit in your state, contact a local attorney.

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