When Can Parents Sue for Wrongful Death?

The death of a child is one of the most devastating experiences a parent can face. The grief may be mixed with frustration and anger if the death was the fault of a negligent person or entity. Wrongful death actions can not only compensate family members for the loss but help to bring closure, which can facilitate healing.

Laws that govern parents’ rights to claim wrongful death damages vary by state. Therefore, it is difficult to make generalities that are universally applicable. Here are some scenarios in which a wrongful death can occur and what rights parents might have under the circumstances.

Death of an Adopted Child

Because adoption creates a legal relationship between the child and the adoptive parents, the fact of the child’s adoption has no bearing on whether or not parents can recover wrongful death damages. In other words, if the state laws allow the biological parents of a child to sue for wrongful death, adoptive parents have the same right. Similarly, if the laws prevent the biological parents from suing, adoptive parents are equally prohibited.

Death of an Adult Child

If the decedent is an adult, there may be more limits placed on the parents’ right to sue for wrongful death. For example, California law prevents parents from filing suit in regard to the death of a grown child if the decedent had children. However, parents can still file suit if the decedent was married but had no children.

Generally speaking, anyone who suffers a negative financial impact from a death can file a wrongful death suit. If the parents were financially independent on a grown child, they have the right to file suit even if the law would otherwise prohibit them because the decedent had children of his or her own.

Death of a Fetus

Sometimes the wrongful or negligent actions of another entity cause the death of a child who has not yet been born. The laws of some states only allow parents to file a wrongful death action in the case of a baby who was born alive. However, the laws of other states will allow the parents to file suit over the death of a fetus to compensate for the emotional losses sustained as a result of the unborn child’s death, as well as financial losses.

Our compassionate attorneys can explain how the law applies in your situation and what options are available to you.  If you have questions about a case, contact a wrongful death lawyer, such as from Barry P. Goldberg, for a consultation.