Who Can Bring a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Written By: Jeffrey JohnsonUPDATED: Jul 16, 2021Fact Checked

State laws vary on who may bring wrongful death lawsuits. In all states, close family members like spouses and children and parents can bring wrongful death actions. If children are minors, state law may require them to have a legal guardian, called a guardian ad litem, appointed to look out for their interests in the lawsuit. Some states allow more distant family members, such as grandparents, to bring wrongful death lawsuits.


For example, a grandparent who is raising a child may be able to bring an action in the way a parent would in the same situation. Some states also allow legal dependents who suffer financial injury from the death to bring a wrongful death action for lost care or support.

Parents can bring wrongful death actions for the death of their children, but in several states there is no wrongful death unless the child has been born alive and then died. The death of a fetus is not a wrongful death in those states and the parents can’t bring an action for financial losses resulting from the death or for their emotional trauma in losing the child. In other states, the death of a fetus can be the basis for a wrongful death suit. Check your state law or consult with an attorney to find out if such an action is allowed in your state.

Close family members can also bring wrongful death lawsuits for the death of elderly people, but since the children of the elderly are usually grown and self-supporting, they can’t claim damages for parental care, guidance, nurturing, or for financial support. As a result the damage awards in those cases are generally not large. If the elderly person is still working, the family members might be able to claim a loss of future inheritance. See Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for more information.

Who Can Wrongful Death Lawsuits Be Brought Against?

Wrongful death lawsuits can be brought against a wide variety of people, such as the driver at fault in an automobile accident, a negligent employer, the manufacturer of a faulty or dangerous product, or a violent criminal.

A member of a family, however, can’t be sued by another family member for wrongful death. So if a battering husband inflicts a beating on his wife that results in her death, he is subject to criminal penalties, but the couple’s children can’t sue their father for wrongful death to recover damages for the loss of their mother’s care, nurturing, and support.

In other cases, such as the famous civil lawsuit against OJ Simpson (following the criminal action), the family of the victim may sue if they aren’t related to the defendant.

Negligence in a Wrongful Death Case

Most wrongful death lawsuits involve some kind of negligence, such as in a driving accident, work accident, bad product, or medical malpractice. These cases are similar to personal injury lawsuits for non-fatal injuries, but the damages are different. See Damages in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit for more information.

For more information about the basics of wrongful death, see Wrongful Death Lawsuit Overview
For more on the statute of limitations for bringing a wrongful death action, see Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Claim.
To learn about wrongful death attorneys and how to find one, see How a Wrongful Death Lawyer Can Help You.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

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