When a person’s death is caused by the carelessness or wrongdoing of another person, his or her family members have the ability to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for their loss. These lawsuits, known as wrongful death lawsuits, allow a family to find justice after the loss of their loved one.
A wrongful death lawsuit, however, cannot be filed by just anyone. The people who are the rightful heirs of the deceased are the only ones who can bring such a suit, and all of the heirs must be joined in the same lawsuit.
Who Are The Heirs?
In general, a person’s heirs consist of his or her family members. If the deceased was married, then the surviving spouse or partner is considered an heir. Any children the person had are also heirs, regardless of their ages.
If the person had no spouse or children, then usually the person’s siblings, parents, or possibly grandparents would be the heirs. In general, siblings and parents are not considered heirs when there is a surviving spouse or children. However, if parents or step-children can show that they were financially dependent on the deceased, then they may also be able to join in a wrongful death lawsuit.
One Action Rule
In California, only one wrongful death lawsuit is allowed to be filed over the death of one person. So, if a person had several children, each of that person’s children could not bring their own lawsuit over the death of their parent. Instead, only one lawsuit can determine whether or not a person’s death was wrongful.
This rule, known as the “One Action Rule” makes sure that multiple lawsuits based on the same set of circumstances do not have different results. In addition, the rule keeps the responsible person or entity from having to defend multiple lawsuits over several years over the same set of circumstances.
When a wrongful death lawsuit is filed, all of a person’s heirs must be joined as plaintiffs on the case. If an heir does not want to join in a lawsuit, that person can still be named as a defendant, just so he or she is still involved in the case.
Occasionally, family members may not be speaking to each other, or for other reasons do not want to involve a particular heir in a case. When a lawsuit is filed which intentionally omits an heir, the omitted person has the right to seek compensation from the people who were named in the lawsuit.
If a family wins a wrongful death lawsuit, the judgment is awarded in one lump sum. This amount is then split between each of the heirs according to their right to inherit from the deceased. According to the laws of inheritance, some people have a right to greater shares of an inheritance than others. For example, if a spouse is entitled to a greater share of your estate than another heir, the spouse will be entitled to a greater portion of the wrongful death judgement.
When a loved one passes away because of someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, it is important to speak with a wrongful death attorney as soon as is practical. Determining who must be involved in a lawsuit can be a complicated process, especially considering many of today’s blended families. An experienced wrongful death attorney can help your family create a lawsuit that ensures that everyone who is entitled to justice after a wrongful death is represented in a case.
At the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., we work to help the families of victims of wrongful death, and help them hold wrongdoers responsible for their actions. Our compassionate and experienced staff of legal and medical professionals will evaluate your case, and help you understand your family’s rights after a wrongful death.
For a free consultation with a Los Angeles wrongful death lawyer, call (310) 289-2600 or use our online contact form to have your case reviewed today.