However, who are "family members" as defined by that law? What if there is no immediate family or even extended family? Can friends file wrongful death suits? Once we begin to explore these questions, we see that the initial query is not as strange as it seems.
Wrongful death occurs under a variety of circumstances. For example, a death from a car accident may be classified as a wrongful death or it may simply be classified as a personal injury, depending on the circumstances of the accident. Just as death from an auto accident is not automatically classified as wrongful death, other types of accidents are not always wrongful death cases, either.
The California Code of Civil Procedure, Section 377.60, defines the people who can benefit from a wrongful death case. They are, more or less in order of precedence, the surviving spouse or domestic partner*, the children, and grandchildren of the victim. If there are no surviving relatives of this description, then the person on people who would normally inherit under the deceased person's will could bring a wrongful death lawsuit, in the following order: Parents, whether or not they were dependent; siblings or children of deceased siblings; grandparents;and children of a deceased spouse. If none of these relatives exist, then the next of kin may file a wrongful death suit.
A wrongful death victim's personal representative can also bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the individuals listed above. A personal representative is a person appointed by the probate court to handle the wrongful death victim's assets, or estate. When proceeds are received from the wrongful death suit, they may be distributed by the personal representative according to the wrongful death statute.
Problems arise when there are more than one dependent or relatives who are entitled to bring a wrongful death claim and only one of them wants to do so. In these cases, it is sometimes necessary to bring the matter to a court's attention prior to the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit. In other cases, the parties can amicably agree on the way to handle the situation.
No matter how complicated the relationships between the people who might be entitled to file a claim for accidental death, a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer can help. A professional attorney who has experience handling these types of cases can be an invaluable asset not only in handling the claim itself, but in negotiating and dealing with relatives whose interests may conflict. It is very important that you consult an attorney who has experience in handling these types of lawsuits in order for you to get the very best legal advice and the person with the most experience to handle your claim.
*Domestic partners are defined as people who are "registered" domestic partners; those who share a lease, mortgage, insurance plan, or other financial ties with the deceased person and who lived with him or her prior to the accident.