When someone sits down with a wrongful death lawyer to discuss the possibility of pressing a claim or a lawsuit, one of the first issues that have to be sorted out is legal standing. In American law, standing is the idea that someone is the right person to bring a case. Simply asserting that you have the right isn't always enough, and you may have to prove that you do.
Who Has Standing?
Each state handles this question a bit differently. Some states require a personal representative of the departed person. This usually means the executor of the person's estate.
Other states focus on surviving spouses, dependent children who lost parents, or parents of a dependent child as the injured parties in wrongful death claims. Usually, if there are none of these classes of potential plaintiff surviving the deceased, the next-closest relatives, such as siblings or non-dependent children, then have the right to pursue a case.
A few states allow all the beneficiaries of an estate to file claims. This is one of the few legal mechanisms that opens the door for suits brought by non-relatives.
The other means allowing a case by a non-relative or a more distant relative is loco parentis. This entails proving that there was a functional parent-dependent child relationship between the deceased and the claimant. Such claims will be subjected to more scrutiny.
Unsurprisingly, signed documents are always the best proof. For a spouse, the signed marriage certificate that was filed at the courthouse by the legal officiant of the couple's wedding is usually satisfactory.
Children can typically present signed birth certificates. As you might imagine, this can get a little more complex if there isn't a signature on a birth certificate. A wrongful death attorney might present evidence demonstrating parentage, such as a pattern of acknowledgments, DNA testing data or family records. As with other less-supported claims, these ones will be subject to greater scrutiny by the court. Other claimants may have to provide similar documentation.
What Can Be Claimed?
A wrongful death claim is fundamentally an injury claim with extreme circumstances. This means a claimant can seek compensation to cover medical bills the deceased incurred before dying. Burial expenses are also potentially compensable. The departed's lost income while they were injured is compensable, as is the loss of their future earning potential. People who were close to the deceased may also claim loss of consortium, companionship, and even parenting.
For more information, contact a wrongful death attorney.