The laws in most states only allow family members of decedents to file wrongful death suits against any liable parties who may be responsible for the deceased persons' demise. Unfortunately, that same right doesn't always extend to people who aren't biologically related to the decedents. However, there are a few possible ways you can get around this problem and sue the responsible parties for compensation for the death of your loved one.
Show There is a Legal Relationship
In some instances, the right to launch a wrongful death lawsuit is extended to people who have a legal familial relationship to the decedent. Spouses, adoptive parents, and adoptive children are all entitled to this right as long as they can prove they have legal ties to the decedent. This may seem like an easy thing to do, but it can be immensely challenging in some situations and depending on where you live.
For instance, children of same-sex parents may be barred from suing for wrongful death of non-biological parents if those deceased parents did not formally adopt the kids or put their names on the children's birth certificates.
On a similar note, people who are recognized as a common law spouse may only have the right to file wrongful death lawsuits in states that recognize common law marriages, which aren't very many. If you move to a state that that doesn't acknowledge common law marriages, there's no guarantee that state will consider you to be the decedent's legal spouse with all the rights associated with that title.
However, if you can show you have a legal familial connection to the deceased person, you'll have the same right to file a wrongful death claim as someone who is biologically related to the person.
Become the Executor of the Estate
A second option for gaining the right to file a wrongful death suit is to do so as the executor of the person's estate. When a person dies, the executor of his or her estate essentially becomes the individual's stand in, capable of filing lawsuits on the decedent's behalf. Because of this, the rules restricting the right to file a wrongful death suit to certain people don't apply, so you can go after the party responsible for your loved one's demise.
The decedent typically assigns an executor in his or her will. However, an executor may also be chosen according to the law or appointed by the court if the decedent didn't name anyone in his or her will, died without a will, the person named can't complete the duties required, or the decedent died intestate. The challenge here will be ensuring you or someone you trust to file the lawsuit will be named as the executor.
Be aware, though, any money won in the lawsuit would be added to the person's estate and distributed to the beneficiaries according to the person's will, probate rules, and/or inheritance laws.
Use Other Personal Injury Torts
The last option to sue someone for your loved one's death is to use other personal injury torts. While wrongful death is generally the only tort you can use to sue on behalf of a decedent and collect compensation for his or her injuries and death, it isn't the only one you can use. There are other torts that allow family members to sue liable parties directly for injuries and losses they sustained as a result of their loved one's death.
For instance, if you paid some of the decedent's medical bills, you could sue to recover that cost. In some states, you could sue for emotional distress caused by your loved one's demise, depending on the circumstances of the case.
It's best to consult with a wrongful death attorney who can provide more information about these alternatives and help guide you to the best option for your situation. For more information and advice, contact a lawyer, like one from Putnam Lieb Potvin.