Can A Minor File A Wrongful Death Case?

April 7, 2024

By Promoting Justice

When someone passes away unexpectedly, it can leave family members searching for an answer. Along with that, they must also learn to cope with the financial and emotional impacts of the loss. In some cases, the person’s death can be the direct result of someone else’s wrongdoing. In these instances, a family member may file a suit to open a wrongful death case. Sometimes, the victim’s minor child or children can file a suit in court. However, this can occur only in certain circumstances. If you suspect wrongdoing in a loved one’s death and want to learn about the requirements for filing a claim, consider scheduling a consultation with a wrongful death attorney from Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer by calling (802) 457-4848.

Who Can Sue for Wrongful Death?

A wrongful death claim could be filed when a person has passed away due to another party’s negligent actions or failure to act. In these cases, either a surviving family member or the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate can generally file a lawsuit to seek compensation for the family’s losses. The individuals who may benefit from a wrongful death claim typically include:

  • Surviving spouses
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Domestic partners (in some states)
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings

A family member who files a wrongful death lawsuit does so to hold the responsible party accountable for actions that led to the loved one’s death and to secure financial compensation for the surviving family members. The legal requirements and process for filing these lawsuits can vary. If you are in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Florida, a knowledgeable personal injury attorney from Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer may be able to help you explore your legal options. 

Can a Minor Sue for Wrongful Death?

Under certain circumstances, a minor might have the legal standing to start a wrongful death lawsuit. However, a guardian or representative may need to serve as the minor’s legal proxy throughout the proceedings. A representative can be a third-party individual designated to protect the child’s interests. 

Legal Representative for a Minor in a Wrongful Death Case

This individual would file the lawsuit on the minor’s behalf. The designation of a legal representative for a minor is subject to court approval. The qualifications for a legal representative for a minor may vary depending on the jurisdiction, but in most cases, the judge will assess the qualifications of the proposed representative and attempt to make the determination they deem to be in the best interest of the child –– the process can be similar, in this limited sense, to the way a court might decide a child custody case. Depending on the jurisdiction, the child’s representative may be a family member over the age of 21. 

Damages Awarded to a Minor in a Wrongful Death Case

If damages are awarded to a minor in a wrongful death case, the court may continue to play a role. Often, a guardian or surrogate will be in charge of dispersing the settlement, which may not be disbursed at once. Sometimes, the money is earmarked for the child’s education, healthcare, or other needs. Other times, the settlement money may be paid out over time with the balance being given in a lump sum payment once the minor reaches the state’s legal age. 

How Does the Wrongful Death Lawsuit Work?

Whether the wrongful death case is filed by an adult or the representative of a minor child, it will proceed in a similar manner. Generally, the steps are as follows.

Identify the Basis for the Lawsuit

The first step is to identify the wrongful act, neglect, or fault that caused the person’s death. According to the American Bar Association, any action can become negligent when a person does not take reasonable care to protect others from harm. Sometimes, this could be a negligent act, such as a car accident caused by a drunk driver or a faulty device caused by failure to perform safety tests. The plaintiff—the person who filed the lawsuit—must be able to prove that the defendant—the party named in the lawsuit—acted or failed to act in a way that directly resulted in the death of the deceased.

File the Lawsuit

Once the basis for the lawsuit is determined, the next step is to file the lawsuit. This is generally handled by a representative of the deceased’s estate, which may be a family member or an executor of the Last Will and Testament (will). The lawsuit will need to be filed in civil court in the proper jurisdiction. The suit must outline the legal basis for the claim, the parties involved, and the damages sought.

Prove the Claim

The next step in the process involves proving that the defendant was negligent or intentional when taking the action in question. If that action directly caused the death, the damages related to the death may be awarded to the plaintiff. These claims are often supported with medical records, witness testimonies, and expert opinions.

Determine the Losses or Damages

After the plaintiff successfully proves liability in the case, the court will determine the amount of damages. Damages in a wrongful death lawsuit can include compensation for any of the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Loss of income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship

The court will consider several factors when determining the amount of damages. According to the American Bar Association, the court may take into account the age and health of the deceased, his or her earning capacity, and the financial needs of the surviving family members. 

Reach a Settlement or Head to Trial

A wrongful death case may either be settled by the parties or go to trial. Many lawsuits are settled out of court. Often, the defendant will agree to pay the plaintiff a particular amount of money after considering the same factors and damages the judge would. If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial, where a judge or jury will decide the outcome.

Collect the Award

If the plaintiff succeeds in the lawsuit, the court will issue a judgment for the damages awarded. The plaintiff will then collect that amount from the defendant. In cases involving minors, the award may be placed in a trust fund with a trustee overseeing the distribution of the funds. 

What Is the Average Wrongful Death Settlement in the United States?

Because each case is unique, it can be difficult to define the average settlement. The defendant or the court will consider several factors before reaching an appropriate settlement offer or award. The amounts can range from thousands to millions of dollars, depending entirely on the facts of the case. A personal injury attorney may be able to help determine a reasonable amount to hope for if the case is settled or goes to trial.

Reach Out to a Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If your loved one died due to the negligence of another party, filing a wrongful death case may be an option in your situation. Responsible parties can often be held liable for their actions or inactions when those actions result in a person’s death. If you are a guardian for a minor child who has lost a parent through wrongful death, consider contacting a personal injury attorney with Shillen Mackall Seldon & Spicer by calling (802) 457-4848 to schedule a consultation today.