Wrongful death is a claim in common law jurisdictions against a person who can be held liable for a death. The claim is brought in a civil action, usually by close relatives, as enumerated by statute. Under common law, a dead person cannot bring a suit, and this created a legal hole in which activities that resulted in a person's injury would result in civil sanction but activities that resulted in a person's death would not.
The standard of proof in the United States is typically preponderance of the evidence as opposed to clear and convincing or beyond a reasonable doubt. In Australia and the United Kingdom, it is 'on the balance of probabilities'. For this reason it is often easier for a family to seek retribution against someone who kills a family member through tort than a criminal prosecution. However, the two actions are not mutually exclusive; a person may be prosecuted criminally for causing a person's death (whether in the form of murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or some other theory) and that person can also be sued civilly in a wrongful death action (as in the O.J. Simpson cases). Wrongful death is also the only recourse available when a company, not an individual, causes the death of a person; for example, historically, families have tried (both successfully and unsuccessfully) to sue tobacco companies for wrongful deaths of their customers.
Prior to a wrongful death incident, you can file wrongful death lawsuits if you are a relative of the wrongful death victims. Winning these civil lawsuits can recover payment for damages to the victims' lives. The compensation may cover medical and funeral costs, lost wages including future earnings, lost benefits, lost inheritance, pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of support or companionship, general damages, and punitive damages. However, the last compensation may not be awarded without additional evidence of malicious intent.
Simply, the immediate family members such as the parents, spouses and children of the deceased can file the wrongful death lawsuits on their loved ones' behalf because they are almost always eligible to file a claim. Minors may need an adult guardian to take a wrongful death lawsuit to court. Moreover, other family members including the stepparents, grandparents and dependents may also be permitted to file suit in some states.
In most common law jurisdictions, there was no common law right to recover civil damages for the wrongful death of a person. Some jurisdictions have recognized a common law right of recovery for wrongful death, reasoning that "there is no present public policy against allowing recovery for wrongful death." Jurisdictions that recognize the common law right to recovery for wrongful death have used the right to fill in gaps in statutes or to apply common law principles to decisions. Many jurisdictions enacted statutes to create a right to such recovery. The issue of liability will be determined by the tort law of a given state.
For more information on Wrongful Death you can visit http://www.kevinlucey.com/