Who Can File a Wrongful Death Claim?

Personal Injury,Wrongful Death | May 11, 2022

Finding out that a loved one has passed away is the worst news you can receive. The first question you might ask is, “How did it happen?” If someone else’s careless or wrongful actions took your loved one’s life, the answer to this question won’t bring closure. Filing a tort action known as a wrongful death claim, however, can provide you with answers, justice, and financial compensation by holding the wrongdoer accountable. Find out who is allowed to bring this type of claim under Massachusetts law.

What Is a Wrongful Death Claim?

Every state has its own definition of wrongful death. Massachusetts is found in General Laws Part III, Title II, Chapter 229, Section 2. It defines it as the death of a person caused by someone else’s negligence; willful, wanton, or reckless act; or a breach of warranty that results in a fatal injury. Commonwealth law also defines wrongful death as someone who operates a common carrier of passengers and negligently, recklessly, willfully, or wantonly causes the death of a passenger. 

In general, a wrongful death cause of action can be brought if the deceased individual (decedent) could have recovered compensation for personal injuries had his or her death not ensued. Many types of accidents can result in wrongful death, including motor vehicle accidents, premises liability accidents, falls, workplace accidents, defective product incidents, and acts of violence. A wrongful death claim seeks to hold one or more parties accountable for causing someone’s death, as well as to make surviving family members financially whole again.

Who Can File This Type of Lawsuit in Massachusetts?

Who may file a wrongful death claim depends on the state where the lawsuit is being brought. While many states allow surviving family members to bring a wrongful death claim themselves, Massachusetts restricts the right to file this type of lawsuit to only the executor or administrator of the deceased individual’s estate. The executor of the estate can sue on behalf of surviving family members and beneficiaries, such as a spouse, child, or parent. 

How Do You Become the Executor of an Estate?

If the decedent left a will, he or she might have chosen an executor of the estate, as it is the same person selected to carry out the orders in the will. This person may be referred to as the executor, administrator, or personal representative. It is often a family member or trusted friend. In many wrongful death cases, however, the decedent did not leave behind a will, as the death was sudden and unexpected. 

If no executor has been named, the courts will appoint one. If you wish to act as the executor, you can submit your name to the courts for consideration. As the executor, you will be responsible for administrating the estate, paying off the decedent’s outstanding debts, handling a wrongful death claim, and distributing any funds obtained through the lawsuit.

Who Receives the Damages Won in a Wrongful Death Claim?

A wrongful death claim in Massachusetts can pay surviving family members for the losses that they suffered due to the death of their loved ones. It can also pay the estate for suffering experienced by the deceased individual from the time of the accident until the date of death. The financial compensation a plaintiff can receive in a Massachusetts wrongful death case includes:

  • Lost net income the decedent reasonably would have earned in his or her lifetime.
  • Lost services, protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice of the decedent.
  • Reasonable funeral and burial expenses for the decedent.
  • Punitive damages if the decedent died due to the defendant’s malicious, willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.
  • Conscious suffering is experienced by the decedent as a result of the final illness or injury.

In Massachusetts, any monetary damages awarded in a wrongful death case do not belong to the estate, other than conscious suffering. Instead, compensation is directly distributed to statutory beneficiaries or legal heirs. This may include a surviving spouse, parent, child or sibling. To find out how much your wrongful death claim might be worth, contact a Massachusetts wrongful death lawyer at Merrimack Valley Injury Lawyers.