After the wrongful death lawsuit is finished, who decides how much goes to different family members?
If your family is considering a wrongful death lawsuit, you may wonder how much is paid to different family members when the lawsuit is settled. Let us help.
First, this depends on which family are considered beneficiaries under wrongful death law. In most states that would be the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased person, and no other relatives. In some states, the decedent’s grandparents and siblings also might be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit claiming payments.
Settlements also may be paid to the victim’s estate if the lawsuit is filed on behalf of the estate. Survivors, of course, are members of that estate.
You should understand that most wrongful death lawsuits are settled via negotiations out of court and not at trial, and most payments come from an insurance company representing the defendants.
As part of that settlement, certain payments might be earmarked for recipients beyond the immediate family members who filed the lawsuit. For instance, if the hospital and medical care bills were run-up before the victim died, part of the settlement might be designated to pay those bills. The same might be said of funeral and burial expenses.
But other payments clearly should be divided among the claimants or beneficiaries in the wrongful death lawsuit.
The settlement likely would designate precise amounts to compensate victims’ survivors for property damages involved in the fatal accident, for lost wages of the deceased person, for loss of companionship, and survivors’ mental anguish.
Who Gets the Money in a Wrongful Death Settlement?
As for who gets the money in a wrongful death settlement, that can vary from state to state.
Texas law allows the victim’s spouse, children, and parents to file a wrongful death claim, so the money provided in a settlement would be divided among them. But how would they divide it?
The Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code allows adult beneficiaries in a wrongful death lawsuit to work out among themselves how the payments are apportioned. That means these adults must be able to compromise and agree on the terms of dividing the settlement.
If they cannot, the claimants’ attorney in the lawsuit may be able to help them reach such decisions. Their lawyer’s advice may depend on precedents set in previous wrongful death cases. But again, the claimants ultimately would have to agree on the amounts each will receive.
Survivors also can ask their wrongful death attorney to help them decide on how settlement money will be divided before the lawsuit is settled or even filed.
A Jury May Decide
If the lawsuit does not settle out of court but instead goes to trial and is decided at trial, then a jury will decide how the settlement award is divided among beneficiaries.
The jury may take into account such things as whether or not surviving children are minors and thus require a higher level of support than if they were adults. Other factors can help a jury to determine amounts received by other claimants, such as a spouse or parents.
In California, claimants have the option of either peacefully dividing the money among themselves or, if they cannot agree, having the court decide how settlement payments are apportioned.
For example, a small child is likely to receive a greater portion of the settlement than a grown child who is gainfully employed. Also, a surviving spouse may receive a higher portion if they had a loving relationship with the deceased than if they had a troubled marriage.
In general, a victim’s last will is not relevant to the division of money in a wrongful death claim, since the will could not take into account the theoretical dollar amounts of such a lawsuit.
If you need more help in understanding how wrongful death settlements are divided among victims’ survivors or beneficiaries, contact the Willis Law Firm today for free legal advice about your case. We can provide you with a wrongful death attorney to file your lawsuit and help you determine how a future settlement is divided.