family members get along or communicate even at such a saddening moment as the loss of a family member.
This is one of the reasons why there are many cases when certain heirs are left out in the cold and receive no monetary compensation whatsoever, while other family members get to recover damages through a wrongful death settlement or verdict.
But what should you do if your family – or, in other words, the rest of the eligible heirs – sued for the wrongful death of your loved one and won, but you were not even included in the list of eligible heirs? This is the question we asked our Riverside wrongful death attorney at the Law Offices of Howard Kornberg.
When family members filed a wrongful death claim behind your back
Here is what you have to understand: there is no way to give you a short answer, which is why it makes sense to review a very real example. Let’s imagine that your parents died in a car accident and the other driver was at fault for the collision. It has been over two months since the car crash and you had just recently discovered that your siblings filed a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver. The claim was settled and each of the siblings received a significant amount of money.
But here is the problem: you, just like the siblings that received the compensation, are a legally eligible heir, and yet you were not even notified about the claim and settlement. You are not exactly on speaking terms with your siblings and they refuse to share a portion of the settlement with you. What should you do in this particular situation to receive compensation?
Are you an eligible heir?
Although wrongful death laws in Riverside and elsewhere in California may seem confusing, it is pretty straightforward when it comes to determining the family members who have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim after the death of their loved ones.
Our best wrongful death attorneys in Riverside and elsewhere in California explain that the deceased’s surviving spouse is always eligible to receive compensation after a wrongful death. The same rule applies to the living children of the deceased. If the deceased had a domestic partner and their domestic relationship was legally registered, that domestic partner will be entitled to wrongful death compensation as well.
Other relatives may also be eligible to receive compensation for the loss of their family members. A rule of thumb is that relatives who were dependent on the deceased may have the right to pursue a wrongful death claim.
One-action rule in wrongful death lawsuits
But what should you do if you are an eligible heir of the deceased and other heirs received compensation through a wrongful death settlement or verdict without your knowledge?
First and foremost, you have to understand that only one wrongful death lawsuit is legally allowed to be filed against the person or business responsible for the death of a family member. That means that all eligible heirs must file a wrongful death jointly or at least be included in it as the legal heirs of the deceased.
Normally, a family will not be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit without adding all of the heirs to it. Failure to include all of the relatives who have a right to pursue compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit may result in the suspension of the lawsuit.
“However,” says our Riverside wrongful death attorney, “It is possible for certain family members of the deceased to file a wrongful death lawsuit and win a verdict without the knowledge of another eligible heir.” In that case, that eligible heir who was not included in the verdict will be entitled to bring a second wrongful death lawsuit.
Wrongful death settlements: how to get your own portion?
But the rules are a little different for wrongful death settlements. In 2012, the California Court of Appeal ruled that the “one-action rule,” or, in other words, the rule that all eligible heirs must be included in one lawsuit, does not apply to the pre-litigation settlements. Meaning: a wrongful death claim can be made by the heirs separately.