Question: Can anyone bring a wrongful death claim?
Answer: No. Generally, most states that recognize a wrongful death cause of action limit the pool of potential plaintiffs. Some states limit this group to the deceased’s primary beneficiaries, defined as the surviving spouse and the deceased’s children. Other states allow the parents of the deceased individual to bring a wrongful death claim. In addition to these individuals, some states recognize the rights of any dependent, whether closely related or not, to bring a wrongful death claim provided the person actually depended on the deceased for economic support. In those jurisdictions, it apparently makes little to no sense to allow the second cousin once removed of the deceased, who saw him once every five years at a family reunion, to recover for the loss of the deceased’s future earning potential.
Some states require any recovery gained in a wrongful death action to be divided amongst the deceased’s heirs at law or to be distributed to the deceased’s heirs at law as it would be in any normal probate proceeding. In these situations, distant relatives may receive some “trickle down” of damages, even though they were not financially dependent upon the deceased during his life.
If more than one plaintiff is entitled to recover, all plaintiffs will share in the award. The manner in which the award is divided can be confusing and will depend upon the laws in the particular jurisdiction where the matter is brought.