A wrongful death lawsuit alleges that the decedent was killed as a result of the negligence (or other liability) on the part of the defendant, and that the surviving dependents or beneficiaries are entitled to monetary damages as a result of the defendant's conduct.
This type of claim is different from a normal negligence lawsuit, which is filed by the person injured for the resulting damages. Originally under “common law” (the general legal principles passed from England to the United States over hundreds of years), a wrongful death claim did not exist based upon the reasoning that the claim died with the victim where there was no way to compensate him for damages. The surviving family members then could not claim damages from the person who caused the victim's death. Over the years, states have passed "wrongful death statutes" that provide compensation for persons who may have been damaged from the death of the victim as well as an incentive to act carefully and safely. Today, all states have some form of a wrongful death claim action in force.
While state “wrongful death statutes” were drafted independently of each other and are often unique, they all follow the same general principles. A wrongful death claim generally consists of four elements: (1) the death was caused, in whole or part, by the conduct of the defendant; (2) the defendant was negligent or strictly liable for the victim’s death; (3) there is a surviving spouse, children, beneficiaries or dependents; and (4) monetary damages have resulted from the victim’s death.