Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

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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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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A wrongful death claim may be filed when a death results from an act of intent or negligence. Wrongful death claims often arise when a car accident or medical malpractice leads to the death of a victim.


The person who caused the death is often referred to as the tortfeasor, and wrongful claims are designed to collect compensation from the tortfeasor for the deceased victim and for the losses suffered by the victim’s family. Without wrongful death claims, a doctor (or any other tortfeasor) could negligently kill someone and not face a civil lawsuit for their negligent behavior.

However, while wrongful death claims serve an important purpose, they are not an available legal option for everyone.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

In order to be able to file suit for a wrongful death, you must be related in some way to the person who died. For example, if your neighbor is killed in a car accident, it would not make sense to permit you to bring a wrongful death claim on his behalf, since there is no clear relationship to indicate that you suffered a loss or have the right to represent the victim. However, if your spouse is killed, your relationship with the victim is clear and it becomes apparent that you should have a right to sue. 

The specific nature of the relationship you must have with the victim in order to file a wrongful death claim varies depending on the state. As a general matter, you may file a wrongful death claim if you were the:

  • Spouse of the victim
  • Child (in some jurisdictions under 18) of the victim
  • Parent of the victim (in some cases, only if the victim is under 18 at the time of the death).

You may also sue if you are a grandparent, legal dependent or member of the extended family of the deceased. This will depend on your state’s laws and your ability to convince the court that you are the right person to bring the claim. 

If you believe you have a wrongful death claim, you should strongly consider speaking with an attorney who can provide you with guidance and help you determine your right to legal compensation. 

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