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  • Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Need to Be Shared With all Relatives?

    Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Need to Be Shared With all Relatives?

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Date Modified: September 9, 2023

A wrongful death claim allows surviving family members to recover compensation. However, following a person’s death, more than one person may be eligible for a wrongful death settlement.

Ehline Law is a leading personal injury law firm in California that has helped protect the rights of thousands of families and obtain the compensation they deserve.

If you lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, contact our wrongful death lawyer to learn more about your rights.

  • Video Transcript - Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Need to Be Shared With all Relatives?

    Video Transcript - Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Need to Be Shared With all Relatives?

    "0:00 does a wrongful death settlement need to
    0:02 be shared with all relatives whether or
    0:05 not the the settlement has to be shared
    0:07 with all the relatives really depends on
    0:10 the laws of the individual states
    0:12 however as a general proposition those 0:16 relatives need to join in the lawsuit if
    0:18 they want to recover. [music]"

Understanding Wrongful Death Lawsuits

When someone loses their loved one due to another’s negligence, they may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party. The surviving family members can seek monetary and non-economic damages for the loss of their loved one. 

Many of these cases do not go to trial and are usually settled outside of court. A settlement is the quickest way all parties can agree to resolve the wrongful death case, with everyone foregoing their rights to have a trial. Each state has its own laws pertaining to wrongful death claims. Some states allow immediate family members to bring a wrongful death action, while others can allow distant family members also to seek compensation.

Again, whether a wrongful death settlement must be shared with legal survivors remains entirely dependent on the state law in which the case is brought. Some states leave large latitude, and others have rigid requirements as to how a wrongful death claim will be distributed.

Many states require the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate to file the lawsuit. In cases where a will does not specify the personal representative, the court may appoint one. The right to recovery varies across states and depends on state laws.

In some states, there may be a limit on the wrongful death settlement or jury award and how the distribution among the beneficiaries takes place. Some state laws require surviving spouses to receive more than others, while the state’s law of intestacy may determine the allocation in other states.

Who Is Eligible to File Wrongful Death Lawsuits in California?

In California, the following parties have the right to bring a wrongful death lawsuit against the negligent party:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Children
  • Grandchildren of any deceased child of the decedent
  • Parents
  • Estate executor or personal representative.

If there are no surviving people in the decedent’s line of descent, anyone entitled to the deceased’s property by intestate succession may be able to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. Such individuals may include the deceased person’s parents, siblings, or anyone living with the deceased before their death.

Other people may also bring a wrongful death lawsuit in California if they can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased person, and these people include:

  • Putative spouse
  • Putative spouse’s children
  • Decedent’s stepchildren
  • Decedent’s parents
  • Decedent’s legal guardians if their parents are dead.

If you lost someone you love, you must reach out to an experienced wrongful death lawyer to learn more about your rights.

How Is Wrongful Death Settlement Divided?

A deceased person may leave behind several surviving family members, all having the right to file a wrongful death lawsuit, which can complicate things, especially when splitting the final settlement. Family members often decide on a single representative to pursue a wrongful death claim. If that is the case, the wrongful death legal process remains the same, whereby they can hire an attorney to help build a case, file a claim, and recover compensation for their loss. When they receive the wrongful death settlement, the family members may decide among themselves on fair compensation for each eligible person.

However, there may be disagreements between family members at times, which can lead to complications. Some may believe they deserve more than an equal share of the wrongful death settlement. In such situations, they may decide to hire another wrongful death attorney to represent themselves and look out for their best interest.

In most cases, if there is more than one wrongful death lawsuit against the same party, the court may consolidate it into a single lawsuit. The attorneys may work together and find common ground on splitting the wrongful death settlements.

If the case goes to trial, the jury gets to decide on the distribution of the settlement. However, suppose the case is settled before it goes to trial, and there is a disagreement between the surviving family members. In that case, a hearing can be called to determine an equitable distribution. 

Typically, the family members more dependent on the deceased person will receive a higher share of the compensation than others. For example, suppose the decedent’s minor children and parents both decide to bring a lawsuit. In that case, the likelihood of the children receiving a larger share is much greater as they are the ones who lose more financially. 

However, a surviving spouse may receive a greater share of the settlement than the minor children, especially if they were financially dependent on the decedent.

Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Need to Be Shared with All Relatives?

Relatives may include siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Whether or not they have the right to a wrongful death settlement depends on the laws of the individual states. Some states leave a large latitude, while others have strict requirements regarding how the claim may be distributed.

If the relatives are eligible to receive the settlement under state law and wish to recover, they must join the wrongful death lawsuit to ensure they receive their part of the settlement.

What Damages Are Available in a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

Wrongful death damages include economic and non-economic damages.

  • Economic damages are those directly related to the death of a loved one, including lost wages, lost inheritance, medical expenses incurred prior to death, funeral and burial expenses, and loss of the victim’s expected earnings.
  • Non-economic damages refer to compensation for non-monetary losses, including pain and suffering, loss of care, loss of love, society, and companionship, and loss of consortium.

In some states, including California, the court may also award punitive damages to punish the defendant for exceedingly negligent behavior.

How Long Do Surviving Family Members Have to File Wrongful Death Claims?

The time limit for filing a wrongful death claim may vary depending on your state. In California, the surviving spouse, children, and other family members have two years to pursue wrongful death claims against the negligent party following the death of their loved one. However, certain exceptions may extend this time limit.

In wrongful death arising from medical malpractice, it may take some time for the surviving spouse, children, and family members to realize that their loved one’s death occurred due to medical malpractice. If that is the case, the two-year statute of limitations may start from the date they discovered the cause of death.

The time is much shorter for wrongful death due to a government employee or agency. Grieving families have only six months from the date of the victim’s death to bring a wrongful death lawsuit. However, before filing a wrongful death suit, they must file a notice of claim with the responsible government agency.

Whether you are a surviving spouse, child, or any other eligible family member, pursuing a wrongful death claim against the government can be complicated as the process is much different. Contact an experienced wrongful death attorney immediately if you’ve lost someone due to the agency’s negligence, as you may not have much time.

Who Can File a Survival Action in California?

When exploring your legal options, you may come across the term “survival action.” A survival action is much different than a wrongful death as the latter aims to compensate the victim’s loved ones while the former compensates the victim’s estate for the losses suffered by the victim before their death.

If the victim suffered an immediate death, then it is less likely that they suffered any losses you could recover. However, there may be a case of survival action if there was a considerable time between the accident and the victim’s death.

The personal representative of a decedent’s estate may pursue a survival action and recover the damages, including medical bills, property damage, pain, and suffering.

How Does a Wrongful Death Settlement Work?

Like a personal injury settlement, wrongful death settlements work similarly. Once the parties agree on the settlement, they must sign the settlement check, which would be in the name of the person filing the lawsuit and their law firm/attorney.

The attorney will then deposit the check into an escrow and pay all dues and expenses incurred from the legal process. They will also take their attorney’s fee out and distribute the remaining settlement amount to each person that is legally entitled to receive the payment.

In case the beneficiaries include a minor, the responsible adults in the lawsuit must make arrangements to have the money held in the trust and ensure rules governing the use of money.

How Can a Wrongful Death Attorney Help Your Family

A wrongful death attorney will help you and your family in several ways. One of the critical things in a wrongful death claim is to establish the cause of death, and you need an experienced wrongful death attorney, as wrongful death cases are complex. An attorney will help investigate the accident, gather evidence, and hold the negligent party responsible for your loss.

Another aspect where an attorney can help is maximizing your recovery. Handling the case yourself can put a serious dent in your recovery. The insurer will most likely coerce you and your family into taking a lowball settlement offer. A wrongful death attorney will assess your case and calculate the value of the monetary and non-monetary damages resulting from the death of your loved one. They will then handle the insurer on your behalf and negotiate with them to get the maximum settlement for you and your family.

Having an attorney following someone’s death can ease the burden on your shoulders. They take care of the legal process and ensure you receive a fair settlement while you take the time to grieve.

Schedule a Free Consultation with Ehline Law

Pursuing legal action after losing someone due to another’s negligence is not on most people’s minds. However, if you don’t file a wrongful death claim quickly, you may lose your right to compensation which can affect you and your family’s financial state. Our wrongful death attorneys will ensure you and your family get the justice and financial support you need following the passing of your loved one. We will help investigate the case, gather evidence, file a wrongful death claim, and fight for the compensation you deserve.

If you lost someone due to someone else’s negligence, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation. Thanks for watching our video, Tort Law Terms. Each state and jurisdiction may have its own laws. This video series is intended to provide general information as would be taught in a law school.

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients.
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