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A wrongful death lawsuit allows you to pursue financial compensation when someone else causes the death of a loved one.

Who Can Recover Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The laws governing wrongful death actions vary from state to state, but all states limit the parties who can seek compensation to certain family members, typically spouses and children. In a few jurisdictions, parents may recover damages for the death of a child. A wrongful death lawsuit is customarily brought by the personal representative of the estate, who will be either named in the deceased’s will, or appointed by the probate court.

The Types of Damages Recoverable in a Wrongful Death Action

The losses for which the estate may recover also vary from state to state. However, as a general rule, all financial (also known as “pecuniary”) losses are recoverable. This includes:

  • Any financial support that the deceased would have provided
  • Any unreimbursed medical expenses incurred by the estate because of the accident that caused death
  • Any funeral or burial expenses

Some states allow what are known as non-economic damages. For example, a spouse may recover for loss of consortium/companionship, or for the loss of the services the decedent would have provided to the home. Other states allow children to obtain compensation for “loss of guidance and nurture.”

In extremely limited situations, the estate may be able to pursue and recover punitive damages, an award designed to hold the wrongdoer additionally accountable for wanton or egregious behavior that caused the death.

Survival Actions

Most states allow an estate to file what is called a “survival action” after a wrongful or accidental death. The primary difference between a wrongful death lawsuit and a survival action—a wrongful death action allows the estate to recover compensation for losses suffered by those who are still living—children or spouse, whereas a survival action seeks damages that the deceased would have incurred had he or she not died. Accordingly, heirs cannot recover compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit for the pain and suffering experienced by the defendant, but the estate could recover for those losses in a survival action.

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