What to Know About Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The reality of a wrongful death lawsuit is that it’s not a pleasant situation, but if your loved one died because of negligence or an intentional act from another person, you might be able to file one. 

While losing a loved one due to any situation is devastating, if it’s because of a preventable accident, perhaps it’s even more traumatic. 

When you file a wrongful death claim, it can provide you and your family the money you need to continue with life, and it may also provide you with some sense of closure or emotional relief. 

The following are key things to know about filing a wrongful death suit. 

Who Can File a Wrongful Death Suit?

Each state has its own laws as far as who can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Surviving spouses and children can file in every state, and in some states, extended family members can too. 

Family members have to open a probate estate to be able to sue on behalf of their loved one who died. If there are minor children who are part of the equation, the court may appoint a guardian to ensure their best interests are maintained. 

In some states, only the executor or personal representative of a deceased person’s estate can file a wrongful death lawsuit.

What Are the Grounds for Filing Wrongful Death Lawsuits?

If you’re filing a civil lawsuit of any kind, there needs to be a legal reason for the claim. 

The premise of a wrongful death lawsuit is that a deceased person lost their life because of the negligence of another person, or because of the intentional act of another person. The grounds of a suit are also that the family members were directly impacted by the death, both emotionally and financially.

There are two things that have to be established in a successful wrongful death lawsuit. The first is that the decedent’s death was caused by someone else’s recklessness, negligence, or a deliberate act. The event can’t be brought about by the decedent’s action or inaction. 

For the suit to be successful, the surviving family members also have to establish they suffered measurable damages because of the death of their loved one. 

Some of the scenarios that are common reasons for filing wrongful death lawsuits include automobile deaths, medical malpractice, and work-related accidents. 


Damages are the loss categories that a survivor might be able to receive compensation for. 

With a wrongful death claim, damages can include:

  • Pain and suffering by the deceased person before their death
  • Medical treatment costs
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of inheritance resulting from the death
  • Loss of expected income of the decedent
  • Value of services deceased would have provided
  • Loss of guidance, care and nurturing provided by the deceased
  • Loss of love and companionship
  • Loss of consortium

How Long Do You Have to File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Every state has its own statute of limitations, which is a time limit within which you have to file a lawsuit. 

There’s no state with a statute of limitations that’s less than a year. The clock for the statute of limitations usually starts from the date of death in most states. 

In very rare situations, the deadline might be extended.

If you don’t file a lawsuit within the window of time that’s your state’s statute of limitations, you can’t go back. You lose the legal right to make a claim. 

There’s something called the discovery rule in some states that might allow for a longer time period to file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

This happens when the cause of death isn’t immediately known, or it’s not apparent right away. Then, through later investigations or the revelation of a key fact, the cause of death may be discovered. 

In those cases, the decedent’s family may have longer to file a lawsuit. 

How Do You Start the Process?

If you decide to bring forward a wrongful death lawsuit, and you’re within the statute of limitations in your state, you’ll need to speak with a lawyer. They can help you file the right necessary documents to officially begin the process. 

In most cases, for a civil case, the first filed document is a complaint or petition. 

That document provides the defendant with a notice of the legal and factual grounds for the case. 

Then, following that you file a summons which is a document letting the defendant know they are being sued. 

Since there are so many deadlines and documents involved in a personal injury case, it’s best to have legal representation.

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