As a society, we generally accept that illness and misadventure sometimes take a life before its time.
However, when someone else was the cause of this tragedy and it could have been prevented, the law acknowledges that some amount of repayment is owed.
Because the person’s life cannot be restored, that payment goes to surviving loved ones to pay for the funeral, help them with the loss of support and wages, and make at least a token gesture of apology for the grief and loss they now have to deal with.
If someone you care for was recently taken from you in a situation that you believe was preventable by a person or corporation, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
This is not only likely to create a little money to tide you and your family through during this incredibly hard time, but it could also bring misconduct or negligence to the light of day.
Especially if the criminal courts were inclined to let them walk away with a slap on the wrist.
The next question is who can actually file the wrongful death suit here in Minnesota. Despite what you might think, a very limited number of people can file a wrongful death suit at any given time.
Because wrongful death is a civil courts issue in which being found in the wrong results in money paid to the accuser if they win, who can file a wrongful death suit is limited to only a few people at a time and in specific circumstances to prevent unrelated people from exploiting a situation.
In fact, only if the person’s closest family wants compensation in wrongful death an option.
Hierarchy of Relatives
Who can file a wrongful death suit is determined by blood and the nuclear family model in a hierarchy of closest and then next-closest relatives.
Please note that these are not all the people who can file a wrongful death suit all the time. As each layer of close relations is removed, a layer further out from the nuclear model gets a chance to file.
If the decedent has a currently living spouse, they will always be at the top of the list of people who can file a wrongful death suit.
Natural and adopted children are also automatically authorized to file a wrongful death suit any time before the statute of limitations has passed.
If the decedent didn’t have any children, their wrongful death ‘slots’ can be filled by their own parents. In this situation, only the parents of the decedent are allowed to file a wrongful death case in Minnesota.
After the parents come brothers and sisters. This means that only if the decedent had no children and no parents can a sibling file a wrongful death case or be the active recipients of any settlement amount.
Parents of a Young Child
Finally, if a minor child is the one who died, their parents are allowed to file a wrongful death charge as their closest possible relatives.
The Spouse Exception
You may have noticed that spouses were not mentioned at all after children were removed and parents were added to the formula.
This is because a spouse is assumed to be a constant possibility while blood relatives are acknowledged in the hierarchy.
This essentially tries to ensure that any decedent has at least two people looking out for them and ready to file a wrongful death suit should the need arise.
A spouse is always allowed to file for wrongful death but they do not preclude the layers of relatives.
This means that a spouse can always file and, if there are no children, parents can file.
If there is a spouse but no parents, both the spouse and siblings of the decedent can file and so on.
What About Friends?
This is a question that is asked with surprising frequency in situations where wrongful death has significantly impacted the life of a non-relative who cares deeply for the decedent, especially if the decedent has no close relatives or none who will file the suit.
Close friends, unmarried romantic partners, and roommates often desire to bring a wrongful death suit on behalf of someone they cared deeply for.
This question also comes up if the person who caused the death gets away in criminal court. At this point, even a close coworker may want to see wrong admitted in the courts, even a civil one.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options for anyone who is not a spouse or on the currently active relative tier of wrongful death filing. The reason for this is how wrongful death cases are arranged to pay compensation to a family deprived of a loved one and possibly a breadwinner.
If all you want to see is a responsibility on the record, you have very few options.
However, if you are eager to pursue the case no matter who gets paid in the end, you may be able to find a qualifying relative that you can legally represent.
Becoming or Hiring a Trustee
If the decedent’s next of kin gives written and court-approved permission to another person to take over the wrongful death case, this person becomes a trustee of the case and has permission to pursue the case independently without themselves being a direct relative.
In this situation, the trustee is often paid for their services and files a bond as security so they can dedicate their time and hire a lawyer for the case.
This arrangement allows for a number of possible situations including families too bereaved to handle a court case and deaths that happened far away from the family home.
It can also provide an opportunity for friends and non-qualifying family members to become a part of the wrongful death case by acting as invested local trustees.
Whether you are a grieving surviving relative or a close friend looking to see justice for an insensible tragedy, you are not alone.
It’s an unfortunate truth that wrongful death cases happen all the time due to negligence, recklessness, or omission.
When this happens, you can get the justice and compensation for your tragedy that you and your decedent loved one deserves with the help of an experienced wrongful death lawyer.